November 1860

Abraham Lincoln wins the Presidential election defeating Stephen A. Douglas, John C. Breckenridge, and John Bell.

December 1860

South Carolina secedes from the Union declaring that: “. . . they [the non-slaveholding states] have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery. . . . They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.”

February 1861

Seven seceded slave states form the Confederate States of America and select Jefferson Davis at their President.

March 1861

Abraham Lincoln inaugurated as the 16th President of the United States.

April 1861

Confederate military forces bombard Union troops at Ft. Sumter in the Charleston harbor beginning the Civil War.

Four additional slave states join the Confederate States of America.

August 1861

Congress passes the first of two Confiscation Acts authorizing the seizure of Confederate property including enslaved property that was used to support the war effort.

Related items: The Confiscation Acts of 1861 and 1862

November 1861

Union military forces capture the Sea Islands in and around Beaufort, South Carolina.


Missionaries and educators from the North begin to arrive on the South Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands to teach people recently liberated from slavery.

Related items: Legacies “Disremembered:” Re-reading Moments of Emancipation, Notes from a Plantation


The town of Mitchellville is established by formerly enslaved people on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

Related items: One Town's Blueprint for Reconstruction, Mitchelville: The Hidden Town at Dawn of Freedom

May 1862

Robert Smalls, an enslaved man, seizes a Confederate vessel. The Planter, in Charleston harbor and sails with his family and enslaved crew members to freedom.

Related items:The Thrilling Tale of How Robert Smalls Seized a Confederate Ship and Sailed it to Freedom,  Video: Robert Smalls: A Slave Who Sailed Himself to Freedom, Robert Smalls, captain of the gun-boat "Planter" [...]

President Abraham Lincoln revokes Gen. David Hunter’s General Order 11 emancipating enslaved people in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and authorizing the enlistment of Black troops.

Related items:Proclamation Revoking General David Hunter's General Order No. 11 on Military Emancipation of Slaves, May 19, 1862

June 1862

Penn School established on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, to educate freed people. Among those most instrumental in the establishment and development of the school were Laura Towne, Ellen Murray, and Charlotte Forten.

Related items: Land-Penn Center, A Natural State, Historical Photograph: Laura M. Towne, Dick, Maria, Amoretta, Biography: Laura Matilda Towne, Correspondence from Ellen Murray, Biography: Charlotte Forten Grimke, Life on the Sea Islands- Part I, Life on the Sea Islands- Part II

January 1863

President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation and authorizes the enlistment of Black troops in the previously all-white Union military forces. The Proclamation frees only those people held in bondage in territory controlled by the Confederacy.

July 1863

The 54th Massachusetts Regiment, an all-Black military unit leads the attack on Battery Wagner near the entrance to Charleston harbor. The gallant assault fails as the Union troops were repulsed. But the courage and skill of the Black men convinced many doubting whites that Black troops could be relied upon in combat.


President Lincoln vetoes the Wade-Davis bill which provided for a strict and tough Reconstruction policy toward white Southerners once the Civil War ended.  Lincoln preferred an easier and more lenient policy toward the defeated South.

Related items: Wade Davis Bill, 1864, Video: MOOC | Lincoln, Louisiana, and Reconstruction | The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1865

January 1865

Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman issues Special Field Order #15 providing a strip of land from Charleston, SC to Jacksonville, Florida, for the use of Black farm families. Encompassing more than 400,000 acres, the allotment of land to formerly enslaved people gave rise to the term “40 acres and a mule.” Later that year President Andrew Johnson revoked the order and many of the freedmen were evicted from the land they thought they possessed.

Related items:General William T. Sherman's Special Field Order No. 15, Video: Reconstruction 360 | Forty Acres and a Mule ,Video: Land: Giving Rise to the Famous Phrase 40 Acres & a Mule 

February 1865

Black troops including the 55th Massachusetts Regiment occupy Charleston, SC.

March 1865

Congress creates the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands,--the Freedmen’s Bureau—to assist Black and white Southerners whose lives and families had been severely disrupted by the Civil War. The Bureau provided health care, food, education, and assistance in negotiating labor contracts.

Related items:Video: Freedmen's Bureau, The Freedmen's Bureau / Drawn by A.R. Waud

April 1865

Confederate military forces under Gen Robert E. Lee surrender to Union forces commanded by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, ending the Civil War.

President Abraham Lincoln assassinated. Vice President Andrew Johnson becomes President.

June 1865

On June 19th, in Galveston, Texas, Union Gen. Gordon Granger issues General Order #3 freeing those people still enslaved, giving rise to the term, “Juneteenth.”

Related items: The Union Army and Juneteenth, 1865, The Codification of Freedom 

December 1865

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, except in cases of punishment for a crime.

Related items: An Important Move Among the Colored Leaders, Lesson Plan: Ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment, 1866

The Ku Klux Klan is founded in Pulaski, Tennessee, by former Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. The organization goes on to intimidate, brutalize, and murder African Americans.


Presidential Reconstruction under Andrew Johnson enables white Southerners who had led and supported the Confederacy to assume political control of the former Confederate states as those states were restored to the Union.

Southern state governments enact Black Codes that severely limit the rights and opportunities of African Americans and restrict them to a subordinate status as “free” people.


Led by Radical Republicans, Congress implements a stronger Reconstruction policy that replaces the measures undertaken by President Johnson. Radical Reconstruction provides political rights including the right to vote for Black males and requires Southern state governments to recognize those rights before those states can be readmitted to the Union.

February to May 1868

President Andrew Johnson impeached by the U. S. House of Representatives, but he was acquitted by one vote in a trial in the U. S. Senate.

Related items: Video: Andrew Johnson- The Impeached President, The Senate as a Court of Impeachment for the Trial of Andrew Johnson

April 1868

The Treaty of Fort Laramie is signed by representatives of the U. S. Government and leaders of the Sioux tribes. It guaranteed to the Sioux nations a sizable portion of Western lands for their exclusive use for the foreseeable future. The territory included the Black Hills in present-day South Dakota.

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July 1868

The ratification of the 14th Amendment guaranteed citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States. It also guaranteed due process of law and equal protection of the law.

Related items: Transcript of 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Civil Rights, Video Lesson: The Fourteenth Amendment and equal protection, Enforcement of the Fourteenth Amendment - Speech of Hon. James A. Garfield

The Burlingame Treaty between the United States and China encourages trade as promoting the immigration of Chinese people to the U. S.

Related items:  Burlingame Treaty, Historical Illustration: The Chinese Embassy: Mr. Deschamps, Chih Kang, Mr. [Anson] Burlingame, Sun Chia Ku, Mr. [John McLeavy] Brown [and interpreters]

November 1868

Republican Ulysses S. Grant defeats Democrat Horatio Seymour for the Presidency. It was the first election in which large numbers of African American men took part in politics and voted.

Francis L. Cardozo elected as Secretary of State in South Carolina. He is the first African American elected to a state-wide office. He is elected Treasurer of South Carolina in 1872.

Related items:  Biography: Cardozo, Francis Lewis

May 1869

The completion of the transcontinental railroad.  Much of the construction of the railroad across the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains was undertaken by Chinese and Irish laborers. 

Related items: Historical Obituary: Anson Burlingame, Chinese Railroad Workers Were Almost Written Out of History. Now They're Getting Their Due, Uncovering and Understanding the Experiences of Chinese Railroad Workers in Broader Socioeconomic Context
February 1870

The ratification of the 15th Amendment stipulates that the right to vote cannot be denied on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Related items: The Fifteenth Amendment Celebrated: An In-Depth Exploration, An excerpt from a speech by Henry McNeal Turner in Macon, Georgia, From the Serial Set: Citizenship and Suffrage for Native Americans

Hiram Revels takes office as a U. S. Senator from Mississippi.  He was the first African American to serve in the U. S. Congress.

November 1870

Alonzo J. Ransier elected as South Carolina’s first Black Lieutenant-Governor. He was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1872 and served one term.

Related items: Biography: Ransier, Alonzo Jacob, Biography: Ransier, Alonzo Jacob, Civil Rights Speech of Hon. Alonzo J. Ransier of South Carolina, in The House of Representatives

Robert Brown Elliott of South Carolina is elected to the U. S. House of Representatives, and he is reelected in 1872. He resigns from the House in 1874, and is elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives where he serves as Speaker of the House from 1874 to 1876.

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Robert DeLarge of South Carolina is elected to the U. S. House of Representatives. He was removed from office in 1873 because of alleged irregularities in the 1870 election. He died in Charleston in 1874.

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December 1870

Joseph H. Rainey of Georgetown, South Carolina, takes office as the first Black member of the U. S. House of Representatives.

October 1871

Nineteen Chinese people were massacred by white people in Los Angeles, California. Fifteen of the rioters were later tried and convicted of manslaughter. Those convictions were subsequently overturned by the California Supreme Court.

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November 1872

The Rev. Richard Harvey Cain, an AME minister, is elected to the U. S. House of Representatives from South Carolina. He served one term (1873-1875) and declined to run for a second term. But in 1876 he ran again for the U. S. House and was elected. He served from 1877 to 1879.

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April 1873

In the worst single episode of racial violence during Reconstruction, at least 105 Black people were murdered by whites on Easter Sunday in Colfax, Louisiana.

November 1874

Robert Smalls elected to the U. S. House of Representatives from South Carolina. Smalls would eventually serve five terms in the House. He was a widely known and influential community and political leader in Beaufort, South Carolina.

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March 1875

The Page Act prohibited the immigration of Chinese women into the United States. They were considered undesirable and immoral.

Related items: The Roots of the Atlanta Shooting Go Back to the First Law Restricting Immigration Forty-Third Congress, Session 11. Chapter 141, 1875. An Act Supplementary to the Acts in Relation to Immigration,

The Civil Rights Act of 1875: “An Act to Protect all Citizens in their Civil and Legal Rights.” The act prohibited racial discrimination in public accommodations including hotels, restaurants, and transportation such as trains and steamships.

June 1876

In the Battle of the Little Big Horn (known to Plains Indians as the Battle of Greasy Grass), several thousand Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors under Chief Gall and Crazy Horse defeated U. S. troops commanded by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer in the Montana territory. Custer and more that 240 soldiers were killed.

July 1876

In the Hamburg Massacre in South Carolina white Democratic rifle clubs attacked Black men and killed five in cold blood after they surrendered. The rifle clubs then destroyed the small town of Hamburg. Seven white men were indicted for murder. None were convicted.

Related items: Biography: Rivers, Prince
September 1876

In the Ellenton riot in South Carolina, as many as 100 Black men were killed by a mob of white men who alleged that a Black man had assaulted an elderly white woman. No one was tried or convicted as a result of the violence.

October 1876

In a political rally turned violent, six white men and one Black man were killed in the Cainhoy riot that occurred about 20 miles upriver from Charleston, South Carolina.

Related items: Cainhoy Riot, The Cainhoy Shooting--An Official Statement of the Affair, Freedoms Gained and Lost
November to March 1876-1877

In the divisive and often violent election of 1876 Republican Rutherford B. Hayes defeated Democrat Samuel Tilden after months of bitter controversy. To gain the victory for Hayes, Republicans made concessions to the white Democratic South that effectively allowed the Democrats to gain political control of three Southern states that they did not control: South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. The white Democratic South thus regained political authority in every Southern state by 1877.

Related items: The Collapse of Reconstruction: The Contested Election of 1876

In South Carolina, the Democrats under newly elected Gov. Wade Hampton vastly undermined the Republican Party and its Black leaders and supporters as a viable political organization. By 1900 in South Carolina and across the other Southern states, Black men were eliminated from the political and governing system. Politics was confined to white men.

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May 1882

The Chinese Exclusion Act passed and prohibited the immigration of Chinese people to the United States. It focused on barring Chinese laborers. White Americans, mainly on the West Coast, had been demanding the exclusion of Chinese laborers for years.

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October 1883

In the Civil Rights cases, the United States Supreme Court invalidated the Civil Rights Act of 1875. The court ruled that the act did not apply to privately owned businesses such as hotels, restaurants, and trains. The court declared that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment applied only to state and local governments and not privately owned enterprises.

May 1887

In the Snake River massacre in Oregon, a mob of white men attacked and killed 34 Chinese gold miners. No one was punished as a result of the killings.

Related items: Chinese Massacre at Deep Creek, Massacred Chinese Gold Miners to Receive Memorial Along Snake River, The Snake River Massacre of Chinese Miners, 1887
May 1892

Congress passed the Geary Act. It renewed the Chinese Exclusion Act for an additional ten years. The exclusion of Chinese laborers from the U. S. was then made permanent in 1902. It was repealed in 1943 when up to 105 Chinese people were permitted to immigrate to the United States each year.

September 1895

In a convention to frame a new constitution for the state of South Carolina, U. S. Senator Benjamin Tillman led a successful effort to disfranchise those Black men who continued to vote. Robert Smalls and William Whipper were among the six Black delegates in the convention, and they eloquently but futilely protested again the loss of the right to vote.

Related items: Biography: Smalls, Robert, Biography: Whipper, William J., Fighting Back: A Black Lawyer Argues Against Disenfranchisement
February 1898

Frazier Baker, the Black postmaster of Lake City, South Carolina, was shot and killed along with his infant daughter by a white mob that objected to having a Black man in charge of the local mail. The mob had set fire to the house, but Baker’s wife and other five children escaped. Thirteen men were indicted and tried by an all-white jury in a trial that ended in a mistrial. No one was punished for the deaths.

Related items: 1898 Postmaster Lynching, Lynching: Ida B. Wells Barnett & the Outrage over the Frazier Baker Murder, Mrs. Frazer Baker and Children, Family of the Murdered Postmaster at Lake City, So. Carolina [...]
March 1898

The U. S. Supreme Court in the U. S. v. Wong Kim Ark ruled that Wong Kim Ark was a U. S. citizen. Wong Kim Ark was born in San Francisco in 1873 to Chinese immigrant parents. After Wong travelled to China in 1895, he was denied reentry into the U. S. The Court declared that he was a citizen under the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution because he was born in the U. S.

Related items: United States v. Wong Kim Ark, Identification Photograph on Affidavit "In the Matter of Wong Kim Ark, Native Born Citizen of the United States." filed with the Immigration Service in San Francisco, Video: The Chinese Exclusion Act: United States v. Wong Kim Ark
November 1898

In the Wilmington, North Carolina riot, an estimated 2000 white men attacked Black residents and leaders, killing as many as 300 people. The white supremacist mob replaced the bi-racial city government with all-white leadership. Black homes and businesses were destroyed and approximately 2000 Black people left Wilmington in the aftermath of the violence.