Historical Time line of Race Relations in the U.S.

Background Material for _A Lesson Before Dying_ and other YA books involving Civil Rights of African-Americans

Background vocabulary

separate but equal










Ku Klux Klan

civil rights


Jim Crow laws






night rider


ethnic background

Find out how much students already know about civil rights and the U.S.’s history of equality. Here are some dates to keep the book in perspective.

Time Line

  • 1776–Declaration of Independence
  • 1850–Compromise of 1850 admitting California into the union as a "free state" while admitting New Mexico and Utah without decsions as to slavery.
    • Washington, D.C. ceases slave trade
    • Fugitive Law enacted.
  • 1857–Dred Scott Supreme Court decision declaring the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional and Dred Scott, a slave, to be personal property who cannot gain his freedom by living in a non-slave state.
  • 1859–John Brown, abolitionist, raids Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia
  • 1861–Alexander II of Russia issues Emancipation Edict legally freeing Russia’s serfs.
  • 1861-65–American Civil War, President Lincoln, 16th President
    • 1862–Jefferson Davis–first president of Confederacy: 10 states: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, North Carolina.
    • 1863–Lincoln issues Emancipation Proclamation
      • –Gettysbury Address
      • Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction
    • 1865–General Lee surrenders to Union at Appomattox.
      • Lincoln is assassinated.
      • 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishes slavery.
  • 1867–Basic Reconstruction Act to restore congressional representation to South.
  • 1868–14th amendment (civil rights) includes Due Process Clause guaranteeing life, liberty, property, and equal protection under the law to all citizens.
  • 1869–15th Amendment guaranteeing right to vote to all (male) citizens regardless of race, color, or servitude.
  • 1896–Supreme Court rules in Plessy v. Ferguson case that "Separate but Equal" facilities are constitutional (legal) in the U.S. Segregation is allowed by law.
  • 1908–Springlifeld, Illinois Race Riots: Seveal Blacks lynched, four white men killed. Birth of N.A.A.C.P.
  • 1954–Brown v. Board of Education–Supreme court outlawd "Separate but Equal" in schools as being inherently unequal.
  • 1955–Rosa Parks refuses to give up her bus seat to a white man and is arrested.
    • Mongomery bus boycott
  • 1960–U.S. African-Americans hold sit-ins in Southern states protesting lunch counter segregation.
    • Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. is jailed.
    • Freedom riders begin breaking "Kim Crow" sanctions on Southern buses
  • 1962–24th Amendment prhibits citizens from being denied right to vote based on poll taxes.
  • 1963–President John F. Kennedy assassinated.
    • Mass Civil Rights march in Washington, D.C.
  • 1964–Blacks and Puerto Rican groupsboycott N.Y. City Public Schools to protest defacto segregation.
    • March 7: Bloody Sunday–650 marchers in Selma were attacked by police wielding tear gas, clubs, and bullwhips.
    • Civil Rights Act prhibiting racial discrimination in restaurants, hotels, and many private businesses.
  • 1965–Watts Race Riots in Los Angeles, CA–35 people die.
    • Voting Rights Act.
  • 1966–Black Power (S.N.C.C.) Riots in New Jersey and Detroit.
  • 1968–Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated April 4 in Memphis.
  • For a more detailed and more up-to-date list, click here