January 20th, 1870

Southern Democrats Declare Election of First African American to U.S. Congress Null and Void; Force Re-Vote

On January 20, 1870, Hiram Rhodes Revels was elected to the U.S. Senate. He would become the first African American to serve in the United States Congress. Revels was elected in Mississippi to fill the vacancy left after the state’s secession from the Union prior to the Civil War.

However, immediately upon Revels’ arrival in Washington, Southern Democrats determined to block his seating to the U.S. Congress. The Democrats declared his election null and void for various reasons including the fact that he was ineligible for the Senate because he was not a citizen under Dred Scott until the passage of the 14th Amendment.

Mr. Revels was eventually seated on February 25, 1870 after a Senate vote of 48 to 8.


March 31st, 1870

Thomas Mundy Peterson Becomes First Black Man to Vote Under 15th Amendment

On March 31, 1870, Thomas Mundy Peterson becomes the first black man to vote under the new constitutional protections guaranteed by the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Ratified the day before, the Fifteenth Amendment granted the right to vote to African American men and, for the first time in American history, gave them legal authority to vote in all federal, state, and municipal elections. The amendment was passed during the Reconstruction era that followed the Civil War and emancipation, as a means of ensuring citizenship rights to black people.

However, black Americans would face many more obstacles on the path toward political equality was still far from certain. When Reconstruction ended in 1877, southern state governments reverted to the control of former Confederates, and legislatures quickly passed laws to erect barriers to black voting like poll taxes, literacy tests, and felon disenfrachisement. In addition, widespread intimidation, terror, and violence also served to limit black access to the ballot. Black women remained wholly disenfranchised for several more decades, until passage of the Nineteenth Amendment created a constitutional guarantee of women’s suffrage, and then faced the same racial barriers to exercising those rights.

When Thomas Mundy Peterson cast his vote in the Perth Amboy, New Jersey mayoral election, voting for the first time at age 45, he marked a great achievement and began a new but continuing struggle. He would also become the first black person to serve on a jury in Perth Amboy, and also the first black person in the city to hold elected office. Peterson died in 1904 and is now buried in the cemetery of the historic St. Peter’s Episcopal Church where he was once a member.


October 10th, 1871

Civil Rights Activist Octavius Catto Murdered After Voting in Philadelphia

On October 10, 1871, African American activist and Union Army veteran Octavius Catto left the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, school where he served as a teacher and administrator and headed to the polls to cast his ballot in the city’s mayoral election. The election was only the second in Philadelphia in which African American men were allowed to vote as required by the Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870.

Local white Democrats, threatened by the emergence of a new, largely Republican African American voting bloc, tried to suppress the black male vote with violence. Beginning days before the election, white policemen and mobs alike terrorized the black community. On the morning of the election, several African American men were shot and some werekilled simply for being on the streets on election day.

Aware of the dangers, Catto was not deterred from exercising his newly acquired right to vote. A Northern man with Southern roots, Catto moved North with his family from South Carolina after his father’s emancipation from slavery and the young man grew into an active advocate for equal rights. In 1863, Catto helped organize black infantry units and aggressively lobbied for their inclusion in the Union miliary effort. Three years later, he staged a one-man protest against Philadelphia’s segregated street cars.

Catto did successfully cast his vote on October 10, 1871, but he did not survive the day. While headed home from the polls, he was shot and killed by Frank Kelly, a white Democrat with ties to party leaders. Catto was 31 years old. Kelly was tried for murder in 1877 but was acquitted by an all-white jury.


October 17th, 1871

KKK Violence Leads President Grant to Declare Martial Law in South Carolina

Founded by former Confederate Army officers in December 1865, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) operated as a secret vigilante group targeting black people and their allies with violent terrorism to resist Reconstruction and re-establish a system of white supremacy in the South.

KKK violence was so intense in South Carolina after the Civil War that United States Attorney General Amos Akerman and Army Major Lewis Merrill traveled there to investigate. In York County alone they found evidence of 11 murders and more than 600 whippings and other assaults. When local grand juries failed to take action, Akerman urged President Ulysses S. Grant to intervene, describing the counties as “under the domination of systematic and organized depravity.” Merrill said the situation was a “carnival of crime not paralleled in the history of any civilized community.”

In April 1871, President Grant signed the Ku Klux Klan Act, which made it a federal crime to deprive American citizens of their civil rights through racial terrorism. On October 12, 1871, President Grant warned nine South Carolina counties with prevalent KKK activity that martial law would be declared if the Klan did not disperse. The warning was ignored. On October 17, 1872, President Grant declared martial law and suspended the writ of habeas corpus in the same nine counties. Once he did so, federal forces were allowed to arrest and imprison KKK members and instigators of racial terrorism without bringing them before a judge or into court.

Many affluent Klan members fled the jurisdiction to avoid arrest but by December 1871 approximately 600 Klansmen were in jail. More than 200 arrestees were indicted, 53 pleaded guilty, and five were convicted at trial. Klan terrorism in South Carolina decreased significantly after the arrests and trials but racial violence targeting black people continued throughout the South for decades.


May 22nd, 1872

Congress Restores Confederates' Rights with the Amnesty Act of 1872

Even while the Civil War was in progress, the Union offered amnesty to Confederates in an attempt to encourage loyalty to the Union and begin the process of reconstruction. The Confiscation Act of 1862 authorized the President of the United States to pardon anyone involved in the rebellion. The Amnesty Proclamation of December 8, 1863, offered pardons to those who had not held a Confederate civil office, had not mistreated Union prisoners, and would sign an oath of allegiance. Another limited amnesty that targeted Southern civilians went into effect on May 26, 1864.

On May 29, 1865, President Andrew Johnson provided for amnesty and the return of property to those who would take an oath of allegiance. Former high-ranking Confederate government and military officials, and people owning more than $20,000 worth of property, had to apply for individual pardons.

Passed by Congress and signed by President Ulysses Grant on May 22, 1872, the Amnesty Act of 1872 ended voting restrictions and office-holding disqualifications against most of the Confederate troops and secessionists who rebelled against the Union in the Civil War. The act conferred these rights to over 150,000 former Confederate troops with the exception of some 500 military leaders of the Confederacy.


December 9th, 1872

First Black Governor in the U.S. Takes Office in Louisiana

Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, or P.B.S. as he preferred, was born the son of Eliza Stewart, an enslaved woman, and William Pinchback, her white master, on a Mississippi plantation in 1837. P.B.S. Pinchback and his mother were freed when he was a young child and moved to Ohio, where they lived together until his mother died when he was just 12 years old. He then traveled back to the South and found work as a cabin boy.

In 1862, Pinchback moved to Louisiana and enlisted in the Union Army, encouraging other African Americans to do the same. After the war ended, he joined the Louisiana Republican Party and, in 1868, was elected to the state legislature and chosen as President Pro Tempore of the Senate. When Louisiana’s African American lieutenant governor, Oscar Dunn, died in 1871, Pinchback was automatically promoted to lieutenant governor.

In the 1872 presidential election, Louisiana Governor Henry Clay Warmouth, a white Republican, supported Democrat Horace Greeley in his presidential race against Republican Ulysses Grant. Following President Grant’s election, the Louisiana state senate impeached Governor Warmouth, leaving Lt. Governor Pinchback to take over the office.

On December 9, 1872, P.B.S. Pinchback was sworn in as Governor of Louisiana, becoming the first black governor in United States history. He occupied the office for just 43 days, until a special election was held and Republican William Pitt Kellog elected and sworn in. The United States would not see its first elected black governor for another 118 years, when Douglas Wilder was sworn in as Governor of Virginia in 1990.


August 26th, 1874

Mob of 400 Lynches Sixteen Black Men Kidnapped from Tennessee Jail

On August 26, 1874, sixteen African American men were held in the Gibson County Jail in Trenton, Tennessee, transferred from Picketsville, a neighboring town where they’d been arrested and accused of shooting at two white men.

Around 2:00 a.m. that morning, a contingent of 400-500 masked men, mounted on horses and armed with shot guns, demanded entrance to the Gibson County Jail. The men confronted the jailer and threatened to kill him if he did not relinquish the keys to the cell holding the African American men. After the jailer gave the leader of the mob the key, the members of the mob bound the men by their hands and led them out of the jail cell. The jailer would later testify that he soon heard a series of gun shots in the distance.

Upon investigation soon after the kidnapping, the jailer found six of the men lying along nearby Huntingdon Road – four were dead, their bodies “riddled with bullets.” Two of the men, found wounded but alive, later died before receiving medical attention. The bodies of the ten remaining men were later found at the bottom of a river about one mile from town.

Local white officials denounced the lynching and held an inquest that concluded the men were killed by “shots inflicted by guns in the hands of unknown parties.” The town mayor also expressed local whites’ fears that black people throughout the county were arming themselves in plans to exact retaliatory violence. Just one day after the mass murder of sixteen black men by hundreds of white men who remained unidentified and free, the mayor ordered police to take all guns belonging to Trenton’s black residents and threatened to shoot those who resisted.


September 14th, 1874

White Supremacist Militia Overthrows Louisiana’s Elected, Integrated State Government

In 1872, William Pitt Kellogg, a supporter of Reconstruction, was elected governor of Louisiana, largely on the strength of his support among African-American voters. That same year, Caesar Carpenter Antoine, an African American man, was elected lieutenant governor.

The electoral success of an integrated ticket angered many whites, and attempts to overthrow the elected government began nearly as soon as Governor Kellogg and Lt. Governor Antoine took office in 1873. During the summer of 1874, Frederick Nash Ogden, a former colonel in the Confederate army, began to organize a militia. The militia, which consisted primarily of white Confederate veterans who opposed Reconstruction, became known as the White League.

On September 14, 1874, 1500 members of the White League attacked New Orleans and overthrew the Louisiana government. After cutting the telegraph lines out of the city and killing at least thirteen members of the integrated New Orleans police force, the militia overran the state house and attempted to establish a new government. Governor Kellogg was forced to take refuge in a nearby federal building. After three days, President Ulysses S. Grant ordered the U.S. Army to put down the rebellion and the elected government was restored.

The 1874 coup was emblematic of the political violence that occurred during Reconstruction, which aimed to overthrow elected, integrated governments throughout the South and restore white supremacy under law. In 1891, following the conclusion of Reconstruction, the state of Louisiana installed a monument celebrating the coup as the “overthrow of carpetbag government ousting the usurpers.” The monument remains standing in New Orleans today.


December 7th, 1874

Vicksburg, Mississippi Massacre: White Mob Attacks Black Political Meeting

During the Reconstruction era that followed Emancipation and the Civil War, African American Mississippians made significant strides toward political equality. Despite the passage of black codes designed to oppress and disenfranchise black people in the South, many African American men voted and served in political office on federal, state, and local levels.

Peter Crosby, a former slave, was elected to Sheriff in Vicksburg, Mississippi – but shortly after taking office, Crosby was indicted on false criminal charges and removed from his position by a violent white mob. On December 7, 1874, the “Vicksburg Massacre” occurred, in which whites attack and killed many black citizens who had organized to try to help Crosby regain his office. The violence prompted President Ulysses S. Grant to finally send troops to mediate the conflict. Crosby regained his position as Sheriff soon after, through the use of force and the courts.

In early 1875, J.P. Gilmer, a white man, was hired to serve as Crosby's deputy. After a disagreement, Crosby tried to have Gilmer removed from office. Gilmer responded by shooting Crosby in the head on June 7, 1875. Gilmer was arrested for the attempted assassination, but never brought to trial. Crosby survived the wound but never made a full recovery, and had to serve the remainder of his term through a representative white citizen.

The violence and intimidation tactics utilized by white Mississippians intent on restoring white supremacy soon enabled forces antagonistic to the aims of Reconstruction and racial equality to regain power in Mississippi.


March 23rd, 1875

Tennessee Legalizes Racial Discrimination in Public Spaces

In July 1866, after ratifying the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, Tennessee became the first Confederate state readmitted to the Union. However, many whites in the state had not accepted the outcome of the Civil War and remained intent on maintaining their dominance over a political and social system that now included many free black citizens.

In 1869, racialized political movements restored Democrats to legislative power in Tennessee. Newly elected lawmakers quickly undertook efforts to "redeem" the South by restoring white supremacy and control over labor. They quickly repealed statute that Radical Republicans had passed in 1868 to outlaw racial discrimination in railroad travel and, in 1870, altered the state constitution to prohibit racial integration of Tennessee public schools. Many other border states passed similar laws aimed at limiting black Americans' new Constitutional rights and protections.

Faced with these developments, federal authorities enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1875 on March 1, 1875, which guaranteed African Americans equal treatment in public accommodations and jury service. Twenty-two days later, the Tennessee legislature defiantly approved House Bill 527, which permitted hotels, inns, public transportation, and amusement parks to refuse admission and service to any person for any reason. The state had authorized the very discrimination the federal law prohibited.

In 1883, the United States Supreme Court declared the Civil Rights Act an unconstitutional exercise of Thirteenth Amendment powers, empowering Tennessee and other discriminatory states and clearing the way for several more generations of Jim Crow rule.


April 1st, 1875

United States Supreme Court Hears Argument in United States v. Cruikshank and Later Invalidates Convictions for Participating in Colfax, Louisiana Massacre

On April 13, 1873, in Colfax, Louisiana, hundreds of white men clashed with freedmen at the Grant Parish courthouse. While only three white men died, it is estimated that nearly 150 black people died in the ensuing struggle – many murdered in cold blood after surrendering.

The massacre was precipitated by the hotly contested 1872 Louisiana gubernatorial election. When a federal judge declared William Kellogg the winner, he began making appointments to fill local parish offices. Meanwhile, Kellogg’s white supremacist opponent John McEnery and his supporters declared McEnery the winner of the election. In the ensuing unrest, black supporters of Kellogg surrounded the Grant Parish courthouse and other municipal buildings in Colfax to protect them from being overtaken by McEnery supporters.

On Easter Sunday, more than 300 armed white men, including members of white supremacist groups, attacked the courthouse building to forcefully remove Kellogg's black supporters. When the white posse aimed a cannon to fire on the courthouse, some of the sixty black defenders fled; others surrendered then, and more surrendered after the courthouse was set on fire. Many of the men were nevertheless killed as the mob began shooting unarmed members of the militia as they fled.

After the massacre, the federal government indicted over 100 members of the white mob under the Enforcement Act of 1870, a law enacted during Reconstruction to protect newly freed black voters from the terrorist threats of the Ku Klux Klan and other disgruntled white southerners. Only three members of the mob were convicted, and they appealed. In one of the final blows to the Reconstruction era protections, those men were freed when the United States Supreme Court declared that they had been convicted unconstitutionally.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in United States v. Cruikshank on March 31 and April 1, 1875. In its ruling, the Supreme Court dismissed the charges against the three white men, ruling that the Fourteenth Amendment protects only against intentionally discriminatory state acts, not the acts of one citizen towards another not clearly motivated by racial animus. This ruling severely limited the federal government's role in protecting black citizens from racially-motivated violence, especially at the hands of white terrorist groups intent on restoring whites’ racial dominance in the post-civil war South.


September 4th, 1875

Clinton Massacre Leaves More Than 20 Blacks Dead in Mississippi

On September 4, 1875, Republicans in Hinds County, Mississippi, held a barbecue and meeting in the town of Clinton that was attended by 3000 people. Hoping to curb the risk of violent political conflict, Clinton authorities appointed special police and prohibited serving liquor. When the Republican speakers began making their political speeches in the afternoon, Democratic party representatives unexpectedly joined the meeting and requested speaking time. In the interest of keeping peace, Republicans accommodated the request and arranged for a public discussion between Judge Amos R. Johnston, a Democratic candidate for state senate, and Captain H.T. Fisher, Republican editor of the Jackson Times.

Both speakers were to be given an equal amount of speaking time, and Johnston spoke first, giving a cordial address. Fisher expressed optimism that meetings between the parties could take place peacefully in the future but eight minutes into his address the crowd was disrupted by an altercation. Soon after, a gunfight erupted between whites and blacks, and bystanders panicked in a rush to escape the danger. About 15 minutes later, three whites and four blacks were dead, and six whites and 20 blacks were wounded.

Newspapers reported that the blacks who fired weapons did so in self defense but local whites were enraged by the show of force. That night, armed whites from Clinton and Vicksburg formed roving bands intent on killing black men. By the next day, an estimated 50 blacks had been killed and many more had been forced into the woods and swampland to avoid attack, where they remained until the violence subsided on September 6, 1875.


January 4th, 1876

Mississippi Legislature Convenes to Pass Laws Strengthening Convict Leasing in State

The Mississippi legislature of 1876, the first former-Confederate-controlled legislature since the start of the post-Civil War Reconstruction period, successfully campaigned on a promise to restore law and order through harsher penalties for “black lawlessness” in the state. They were Encouraged by the recent success of convict-leasing pioneer Edmond Richardson in the Yazoo Delta region, who in 1868 had entered into a contract with the state to lease prisoners as labor to rebuild his lost cotton fortune. Many legislators saw the model as a perfect solution: convict leasing would simultaneously provide workers to the state’s labor-starved employers, earn revenue for depleted state coffers that could not otherwise afford to maintain the state prison, and provide a means of controlling the state’s recently-freed and largely impoverished black majority.

One of the new legislature’s first acts was to pass the “Pig Law,” which broadened “grand larceny” – an offense punishable by up to five years in state prison – to include theft of any farm animal or any property valued at ten dollars or more. White legislators knew the law would disproportionately affect the state’s black citizens, many of whom remained unemployed and resorted to robbing farms to feed themselves and their families. Within three years, the number of state convicts tripled, from 272 in 1874 to 1,072 in 1877.

The Mississippi legislature soon also passed the Leasing Law, authorizing state prisoners to be leased to “work outside the penitentiary in building railroads, levees or in any private labor or employment.” The law formally codified the practice of convict leasing, and the legislature soon proceeded to lease more than 1000 of its prisoners – the vast majority of them black – in contracts to employers across the state.

Convicts leased to private employers regularly did hard, dangerous work in appalling conditions, sleeping on bare ground and often wearing nothing more than the tattered clothing in which they arrived. Like masters over slaves, employers had broad authority to whip convicts for offenses such as “slow hoeing,” “sorry planting,” and “being light with cotton.” Those who tried to escape were whipped until blood ran down their legs, and sometimes even had metal spurs riveted to their feet.

Under the lease system, employers also had little incentive care for the convicts; if one dropped dead of disease or exhaustion, a replacement was easily obtained from the local jail. “Before the war we owned the negroes,” one Southern employer explained in 1883. “If a man had a good [slave], he could afford to take care of him; if he was sick, get a doctor . . . But these convicts: we don’t own ‘em. One dies, get another.” In the 1880s, the annual mortality rate for Mississippi’s convict population was sometimes as high as 16 percent.


April 24th, 1877

Federal Troops Withdraw from Louisiana, Marking the End of Reconstruction

On April 24, 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes withdrew federal troops from Louisiana, the last federally-occupied former Confederate state. The withdrawal marked the end of Reconstruction and paved the way for the unrestrained resurgence of white Democratic rule in the South, carrying with it the rapid deterioration of political rights for Southern blacks.

In the years leading up to 1877, public support for federal intervention in the South waned. By the presidential election of 1876, federal troops had withdrawn from all but three Southern states, Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. These three states became the battlegrounds in a highly contested election between Mr. Hayes, the Republican candidate, and Democratic candidate Samuel Tilden. Mr. Tilden appeared to have won the popular vote, but the Republican Party disputed the electoral college results from the remaining occupied Southern states.

In January 1877, an electoral commission was created to resolve the election controversy. The bipartisan commission voted to award the popular vote and the electoral college votes of the contested states to Mr. Hayes, giving him a narrow victory over Mr. Tilden. President Hayes garnered Democratic support for the commission's decision by pledging to end Reconstruction and withdraw the last of the 3000 federal troops from Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina.


November 1st, 1879

Carlisle Indian School Begins Assimilating Native American Children into White Culture

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the United States Congress established the Civilization Fund to provide financial support for programs intended to “civilize” native people, and created the Bureau of Indian Affairs to oversee those efforts. In the following decades, U.S. policy became increasingly focused on eradicating Native youth’s tribal ties and assimilating them into the culture so that they would grow into adults supportive of the American economy. Indian boarding schools were an outgrowth of this goal. Initially, students were only compelled to attend schools on their tribal reservations, but eventually children were forcibly sent to off-reservation boarding schools.

The Carlisle Indian School, opened in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on November, 1, 1879, was the first school of its kind. The school was founded by Captain Richard Pratt, who described his philosophy for educating Native children thus: “All the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” The federal government used Carlisle as a model for other boarding schools to forcefully assimilate Native children into mainstream culture. Young children were taken from their families to attend these schools, and parents who resisted were forced to flee, hide, or face imprisonment. Many parents voluntarily sent their children; because Native children were not permitted to attend local public schools with white students, assimilation boarding schools were often seen as the only available educational opportunity.

The federal government viewed educating Native children as a wholly different project from educating white children. While the government believed a white youth’s “moral character and habits are already formed and well defined” when he leaves for school, a native youth, “born a savage and raised in an atmosphere of superstition and ignorance... lacks at the outset those advantages which are inherited by his white brother” and “if he is to rise from his low estate the germs of a nobler existence must be implanted in him and cultivated. He must be taught to lay aside his savage customs like a garment and take upon himself the habits of civilized life.” To implement this goal, the children were given English names, forced to cut their hair, and forbidden from speaking their native languages. Students received vocational training but very little academic instruction with the expectation that they would make their living as farmers or manual laborers. Conditions in many schools were poor and students were often the victims of extreme physical and sexual abuse.

Support for the schools began to decline after reform proponents submitted The Meriam Report on February 1, 1928, detailing the schools’ poor conditions and unreasonable focus on assimilation, discipline, and vocational training. When one of the report’s authors, John Collier, became Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1933, he took steps toward dismantling the assimilationist agenda of the Indian boarding schools.