President Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation.
Although only freeing slaves in Confederate-controlled areas, Lincoln's proclamation made ending slavery a central issue of the Civil War. Almost 200,000 African Americans fought for the Union army over the following two and a half years.
Congress establishes the Freedmen's Bureau to assist former slaves.
The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands was created to attend to both the immediate and long-term needs of freedpeople in the South. Food, shelter, and medical attention were provided by Bureau agents, who also assisted ex-slaves in finding jobs and negotiating labor contracts. Although the Bureau was limited in its capacity to protect African Americans from racist violence, it is credited with setting up approximately fifty hospitals and helping establish between three and four thousand schools during its five years of existence.
Congress ratifies the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, stating that "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude
shall exist within the United States." Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation only applied to the Confederate states. On April 8, 1864, the Republican Senate voted by a large margin for passage of an amendment to abolish slavery once and for all throughout the country. It took over a year and half, however, for the measure to pass in the House.
Fisk Free Colored School opens.
Fisk was housed in the buildings of a former U.S. army hospital in the midst of Nashville's African American community. On its opening day, Tennessee Governor W.G. Brownlow advised students to be "mild and temperate" in their behavior toward white people and warned Fisk's teachers to be "exceedingly prudent and cautious." The school enrolled 600 students by February and expanded rapidly.
President Lincoln dies after being shot by John Wilkes Booth the previous evening. Booth, a well-known actor and staunch Confederate, had conspired with two others to assassinate the president, vice president, and secretary of state. Lincoln was attending a performance at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., when he was shot. Fortunately, his co-conspirators failed to carry out their mission.
Congress passes the Civil Rights Act, guaranteeing African Americans' legal equality with whites. The first important law to be enacted despite presidential veto, the Civil Rights Act forbid individual states from denying African Americans the rights of citizenship. It was enacted in response to Southern states' creation of Black Codes, which punished African Americans for crimes such as being without a job and preaching without a license. The codes, which varied from state to state, also limited blacks' mobility by preventing them from renting land anywhere but in rural areas and requiring them to sign and fulfill year-long labor contracts.
Howard University is officially incorporated by Congress.
Although originally conceived as a theological seminary for freedmen, Howard was incorporated as a liberal arts college open to women and men of all races. It became the third university in Washington, D.C. after Georgetown and George Washington Universities.
Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute opens in Hampton, Virginia.
Like Fisk, Hampton was supported by the American Missionary Association and served as a major training ground for the thousands of African American teachers who helped establish or worked in schools for freedpeople during the years following Emancipation.
Congress adopts the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing all citizens "equal protection of the laws." The 14th Amendment threatened to reduce the number of representatives to Congress for any state that continued to prevent African American men from voting.
1863 - 1868 | 1869 - 1874 | 1875 - 1879