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Explore the Map and Timeline of Slavery in America

Learn more about slavery after the Civil War by scrolling through the timeline and map. Points on the map include photos, videos and more information about key dates in United States history.

Scroll through the timeline by dragging your mouse (left or right) or by using the arrow keys on the keyboard. Events will automatically populate the map below.

Click on events in the timeline or on the map to learn more through the text, photos and videos.

Interactive Map and Timeline - United States 1860-1950

 

Interactive State-by-State Map

Learn more about the highlighted states and their forced labor history following the Civil War. Click on yellow states for more information.

Oregon California North Dakota New Mexico Texas Michigan Illinois Missouri Arkansas Tennessee Louisiana Maryland New York Pennsylvania Virginia North Carolina South Carolina Mississippi Alabama Georgia Florida

Alabama

  • Alabama has peonage on farms and convict leasing in coal and iron mines.
  • 1866: Alabama began leasing state prisoners to private companies in a system known as "convict leasing." Alabama's first convict lease was for 374 state prisoners to a railroad company for a total of $5.
  • 1880s: Alabama enacted laws making it a crime for a black man to change employers without permission.
  • 1882: Pratt Mines Strike: Free laborers at the Pratt Mine outside Birmingham went on strike to protest wage decreases and the presence of convict laborers. The owners, Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company, responded by filling all open spots with convict laborers.
  • 1883: Alabama creates an office of prison inspector to oversee conditions for convict laborers. The inspectors describe wretched conditions for convict laborers. New rules for leasing begin to require minimum standards for treatment and rules for punishments. These reforms bring modest improvements.
  • 1903: Alabama tightens contract labor laws: Prior to 1903, if a worker left a job after receiving an advance, an employer had to prove that fraud had always been the worker's intention. The new law no longer required any evidence of bad intention by the worker. Now, any white employer could claim a black worker had taken an advance and not repaid it, and Alabama courts would not accept black workers' testimony in court.
  • 1903: Peonage Trials: President Theodore Roosevelt authorizes a federal investigation into allegations of peonage in several counties in Alabama. As a result, several wealthy landowners, including John Pace, were indicted by a Grand Jury in Montgomery for operating slave rings. But the subsequent trials were unsuccessful in preventing peonage and Roosevelt pardons John Pace who goes back to using peons.
  • 1911: Bailey v. Alabama: U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the 1903 Alabama contract labor law as unconstitutional for violating the peonage statute. In 1914, the Supreme Court rules in U.S. v. Reynolds that Alabama employers cannot take a man from prison and force him to pay off the fees that the employer paid on his behalf.
  • 1928: Alabama became the final state to eliminate the leasing of convicts by the state. County governments continued to rent prisoners to private industry.
  • 1931: Scottsboro Case: After a fight between black and white hobos in Scottsboro, nine black youths were falsely accused of rape. The Alabama trial captured national attention, especially after the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death. The following year the case was overturned by the Supreme Court, evidence of a growing federal interest in protecting Southern blacks.
  • 1941-1945: World War II: More than a million African Americans serve in WWII in segregated units. Though most were confined to service branches, approximately 50,000 fought in combat. The Tuskegee Airmen were particularly celebrated for their valor.

Arkansas

  • Arkansas leased convicts for coal mining, plantation work, tunnel blasting, brick making, railroad construction, and domestic services in private homes.
  • 1867: Arkansas began leasing convicts; though for the first six years it paid its lessees thirty-five cents per convict per day.
  • 1875: The Arkansas legislature passed a law making the theft of any property worth two dollars or more punishable by one to five years in prison.
  • 1913: Arkansas eliminated the leasing of convicts by the state.

California

  • 1870s: California contracts its convicts.
  • 1882: Chinese Exclusion Act: Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act to prevent skilled and unskilled laborers from China from immigrating, and created difficult travel paperwork burdens for non-labor Chinese. The Act was expanded and extended until 1943. It reflected common anti-Chinese attitudes at the time - especially strong in California - where white Americans felt that Chinese immigrants were depressing wages.

Florida

  • Florida turpentine camps made use of forced labor through convict leasing, and railroad companies ensnared peons through company store debts.
  • 1869-1877: Florida leases out small numbers of convicts, mainly to railroad construction companies.
  • 1877: Florida's convict leasing system gets larger and more organized.
  • 1880s: Florida enacted laws making it a crime for a black man to change employers without permission.
  • 1906: Jackson Lumber Company Peonage Case: The guilty verdict against the Jackson Lumber Company brought attention to ongoing peonage in the south. The status of the victims as white immigrants brought their cases more publicity.
  • 1907: Florida tightens contract labor laws: It became illegal for workers who had been paid an advance to leave their job without repaying it.
  • 1919: Florida eliminates convict leasing by the state - though counties can continue to lease convicts. At the same time, it strengthens contract labor laws making it easier to ensnare workers into private peonage.
  • 1923: The public is outraged by a story in the New York press revealing the brutal death of a white man from North Dakota, Martin Tabert, who was arrested for vagrancy in Florida and then leased to a lumber camp and eventually whipped to death. Under public pressure, Florida eliminates convict leasing by counties.
  • 1940s: The Department of Justice vigorously prosecutes U.S. Sugar Company in Florida for forcing black men into their sugarcane fields.
  • 1944: Florida Contract Labor Struck Down: In Pollock v. Williams, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida's second contract labor law from 1919.

Georgia

  • Georgia's coal and iron mines, brick companies, and turpentine camps made use of forced labor through convict leasing. Chain gangs are used for creating and maintaining public roads.
  • 1868: Georgia's first convict lease was for 100 convicts for $2,500 to a railroad company.
  • 1899: Eberhart Case: The Justice Department attempted to convict the Georgia planter William Eberhart of peonage after he forced the Calloway family to work for him and violently assaulted them. Though Eberhart's cruel reputation was well-known, local white families came to his defense. A federal judge dismissed the case, stating there was no specific statue against slavery, disregarding the language of the Thirteenth Amendment.
  • 1908: Atlanta holds public hearings into abuses of convict laborers in Georgia. Testimonies reveal torture and terrible working conditions at industries like Chattahoochee Brick and coal mines at Lookout Mountain, companies owned by some of the city's leading citizens. Public outrage helped end the practice of state leasing of convicts in Georgia.
  • 1906: Atlanta Race Riots: Incensed by scandalous (and likely false) accounts of four rapes of white women by black men, thousands of white Atlantans riot and target black businesses, homes, and people. After four days, an estimated 25 to 40 blacks were killed. The news had international attention, and shamed local white political leaders into conversation with African Americans. African Americans became increasingly unwilling to follow the accommodation tactics promoted by Booker T. Washington.
  • 1921: The Negro in Georgia: Governor Hugh M. Dorsey releases a 24-page booklet describing cruelty against and peonage of blacks in Georgia over the past few years. A committee of 39 citizens approves of resolutions to remedy the problems through ideas such as establishing segregated committees on race relations, imposing a penalty on counties where lynchings occur, and encouraging segregated churches to preach mercy and mutual forbearance.
  • 1930: Chain gangs had replaced convict leasing by the states in the South, and over 8,000 prisoners in Georgia were forced to work on chain gangs. Many chain gangs are put to work paving and rebuilding roads in a movement called the "Good Roads Movement."
  • 1932: The publication of I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang and a movie based on the book caused public opinion against the practice of chain gangs to increase.
  • 1942: Georgia Contract Labor Struck Down: In Taylor v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Georgia contract labor law, which had forbidden a laborer from breaking a contract if he had received an advance.

Illinois

  • 1880: Pullman Company Town: George Pullman, the builder of railroad cars, developed one of the first and most well-known company towns. Located just south of Chicago, all of Pullman's houses, hotels, and stores were owned by the company. Though Pullman was designed with sincere intentions, the company's total control over worker's lives, food costs, and homes was unpopular, and fed the resentment that caused the Pullman Strike in 1894. In 1898, the Illinois Supreme Court ordered Pullman to be sold off.
  • 1893: World's Columbian Exposition: Chicago hosted the World's Fair this year, creating a "White City" of classically inspired temporary buildings to showcase displays from across the country and around the world. Arts, architecture, and industry were glorified and novelties such as the Ferris Wheel, electric lighting, ragtime music, and the midway carnival were popular with the crowds.
  • 1908: Springfield Race Riots: Enraged that a county sheriff in Springfield, Illinois had protected two black suspects from the city jail by transferring them, a mob of white residents turned against the black neighborhoods of the town. Over two days, hundreds of black homes and businesses were destroyed, and more than seven people die. National Guard troops were called in to restore order.
  • 1910s: Great Migration begins: As transportation networks enlarge and northern industrialists recruited black laborers from the South, opportunities for blacks expanded. Moving to new jobs and away from the terror of Jim Crow proved attractive to millions of southern blacks, and the wave of internal migration changed the populations of urban centers such as New York City, Chicago, and Detroit and provided new upward mobility and educational opportunities. The Great Migration had an extra burst of energy during the World War I because of the availability of wartime jobs, but this first wave continued through to 1930.
  • 1940: Abolish Peonage Committee: With the help of the International Labor Defense (ILD), a group of people in New York and Chicago organized the Abolish Peonage Committee and began to pressure the Justice Department to try cases.

Louisiana

  • 1866: Louisiana began leasing state prisoners to private companies—it first leases out forty-five men for fifty cents a day.
  • 1873: Colfax Massacre in Louisiana: In response to a contested governor's election between Republicans and Democrats in Louisiana, a black militia formed to protect the Republican politicians inside the Colfax courthouse in Grant Parish. Local white Democrats attacked, focusing their violence on the blacks. Three white men and more than one hundred black men were killed, many after surrendering. Though similar episodes had occurred across Louisiana and the South, the scale and savagery of the massacre brought national attention.
  • 1874: In Louisiana, confederate veterans who had taken part in the Colfax Massacre organized the "White League" in order to better intimidate Republicans and blacks.
  • 1892: Plessy v. Ferguson: In 1892, Homer Plessy and a group of activists in New Orleans sought to challenge the constitutionality of a Louisiana Jim Crow law requiring segregation on railroad cars. Plessy, who was one-eighth black, argued that his right to ride on a white car was protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.
  • 1896: The Supreme Court ruled against Homer Plessy (Plessy v. Ferguson), deciding that the Louisiana law was not in conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment, and legitimizing segregation as "separate but equal."
  • 1901: Public outrage over scandalous tales of abuse helped end the practice of state leasing of convicts by the state.

Maryland

  • The National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland houses files from the U.S. Justice Department containing more than 30,000 pages of documents and letters attesting to the subjugation, punishment, and profit made off of the forced labor of African Americans.

Michigan

  • 1910s: Great Migration begins: As transportation networks enlarge and northern industrialists recruited black laborers from the South, opportunities for blacks expanded. Moving to new jobs and away from the terror of Jim Crow proved attractive to millions of southern blacks, and the wave of internal migration changed the populations of urban centers such as New York City, Chicago, and Detroit and provided new upward mobility and educational opportunities. The Great Migration had an extra burst of energy during the World War I because of the availability of wartime jobs, but this first wave continued through to 1930

Mississippi

  • Peons are forced to work on private plantations, and convicts are forced to work on state farms.
  • 1868: Mississippi's first convict lease for 241 prisoners to a cotton plantation.
  • 1875: In Mississippi, the "Red Shirts" formed in order to better intimidate Republicans and blacks. The group operated openly, aggressively preventing blacks from voting, then assassinating Republicans who were elected. The Red Shirts remained active until 1899.
  • 1876: In Mississippi the infamous "Pig Law" made the theft of a farm animal worth more than ten dollars punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
  • 1904: Parchman Farm is established on 20,000 acres in the Mississippi Delta. Parchman consisted of 15 work camps organized much like antebellum slave plantations and became notorious for its harsh treatment of prisoners immortalized in 'blues' songs.
  • 1907: Public outrage over scandalous tales of abuse helped end the practice of state leasing of convicts in Mississippi.
  • 1927: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 leaves African Americans especially vulnerable and exposes the terrible working conditions and treatment of sharecroppers in the South.

Missouri

  • 1850s-1870s: Missouri experiments with convict leasing.
  • 1876: The new Democratic majority in control of the government passes "Pig Laws" that convict men to 5 years of jail for stealing an animal or piece of property worth more than $10.
  • 1877: Missouri convicts are used as strike breakers, but a dangerous and expensive revolt at the Montserrat Mine convinces state leaders to abort the effort.
  • 1917: East St. Louis Riot: Competition for jobs between newly arrived black Southerners and local whites raised tensions in the city, and violence erupted. After two months of sporadic riots, thousands of whites formed a mob and attacked the black neighborhood, lynching and murdering around 200 people, and destroying their homes and businesses.

New Mexico

  • Peonage occurs on livestock operations.
  • 1867: Peonage, or the practice of compelling a person to work to pay off a debt, is outlawed by the federal government as a result of New Mexico being acquired as a territory. Peonage had been practiced widely in New Mexico under Mexican rule and the U.S. did not want to introduce it into the American legal system.
  • 1910's: Arizona and New Mexico became the final territories on the continent to become states.

New York

  • 1909: Birth of NAACP: African American and white intellectuals, social welfare workers, labor activists, and journalists form the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People in New York City. The NAACP dedicates itself to promoting equal rights, attaining suffrage, and accessing equal education and job opportunities for blacks. Early efforts focused on overturning Jim Crow laws.
  • 1910s: Great Migration begins: As transportation networks enlarge and northern industrialists recruited black laborers from the South, opportunities for blacks expanded. Moving to new jobs and away from the terror of Jim Crow proved attractive to millions of southern blacks, and the wave of internal migration changed the populations of urban centers such as New York City, Chicago, and Detroit and provided new upward mobility and educational opportunities. The Great Migration had an extra burst of energy during the World War I because of the availability of wartime jobs, but this first wave continued through to 1930.
  • 1920: Harlem Renaissance Begins: As a result of the Great Migration, the economic opportunities of World War I, and the demographic concentration of an ambitious, black middle class, a wave of African American music, literature, poetry, and fine art swells out of Harlem and other urban cores. The new works depict uplifting images of a "new negro" - an intellectual, productive, proud, modern, and sophisticated identity that inspires and replaces damaging racist stereotypes. The Harlem Renaissance continues through to the mid 1930s, and inspires a generation of civil rights activists.
  • 1936: Jesse Owens: At the Berlin Olympics, black athlete Jesse Owens won four gold medals for the U.S., upsetting the racist assumptions of Hitler and white supremacists at home. A ticker-tape parade in New York City illustrated a growing national support for blacks.
  • 1940: Abolish Peonage Committee: With the help of the International Labor Defense (ILD), a group of people in New York and Chicago organized the Abolish Peonage Committee and began to pressure the Justice Department to try cases.

North Carolina

  • Convicts are leased to railroad construction companies.
  • 1872: North Carolina began leasing convicts.
  • 1880s: North Carolina enacted laws making it a crime for a black man to change employers without permission.

North Dakota

  • 1889: Westward expansion continued, and North Dakota was admitted as state.
  • 1923: Martin Tabert, a white youth from North Dakota, traveling around the U.S., is picked up in Florida and charged with vagrancy. He is forced into labor at a lumber company. His death at the hands of a "whipping boss" leads to a national scandal and ultimately, to the end of convict leasing at the county level in Florida.

Oregon

  • 1859: in response to overcrowding, Oregon leases prisoners. All the prisoners escaped, and the leases ended. The state resumed control of the prisoners in 1862.

Pennsylvania

  • 1907: U.S. Steel, a Pennsylvania based company takes control of Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad, which owned mines in Alabama relying heavily on convict labor. U.S. Steel signs a new lease to acquire 400 prisoners from the state of Alabama for use in two of TCI's mines.

South Carolina

  • 1873: South Carolina began leasing convicts.
  • 1897: South Carolina eliminated state leasing of convicts. In many cases, the convicts were now transferred to prison-run chain gangs.

Tennessee

  • Tennessee leased convicts to coalmines and railroad companies.
  • 1866-1871: Confederate veterans formed the Ku Klux Klan in Pulaski, Tennessee, to promote white supremacy by terrorizing and murdering blacks and their allies.
  • 1871: Tennessee began leasing convicts. The first lease was for nearly 800 prisoners to Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Co.
  • 1875: The Zebra Law in Tennessee put men in chains for crimes as minor as stealing a one cent fence rail.
  • 1892: Free laborers strike in coalmines, protesting poor working conditions. When convict laborers are used to replace them the free laborers destroy the convict camps and free the prisoners.
  • 1893: Tennessee stopped leasing convicts to coal mines in 1893, and all state leasing of convicts in 1896. In many cases, the convicts were then transferred to prison-run chain gangs.

Texas

  • 1866: Convict Leasing Begins
  • Texas began leasing state prisoners to private companies. Texas' first agreement was for 250 convicts to two railroad companies for $12.50 a month.
  • 1942: A white man and his daughter on a remote farm in Beeville, Texas are charged with holding an African American worker in slavery for at least four years, repeatedly beating the man with whips and chains. They are convicted and sent to federal prison. This is one of the first cases to be prosecuted by the Justice Department in the wake of the outbreak of WWII and was intended to send a signal to Japan and Germany that slavery in the U.S. would not be tolerated.

Virginia

  • 1870s: Virginia briefly leases convicts for work in railroad camps, quarries, and canals. High rates of mortality and escape make it unpopular with the public.

 



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