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Timeline: Building Democracy (1866 - 1955)
Early Days & Slavery A segregated school in the early 1900s.
Building Democracy
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1400
Mamie Smith records the first blues record, "Crazy Blues," on the Okeh label. It is hugely successful.

1400
"Shuffle Along," with music by Eubie Blake, lyrics by Noble Sissle, and an all-black cast, opens on Broadway. It will become one of the greatest musical comedies in American history.

NPR Learn More: Tribute to Eubie Blake
From Fresh Air
1400
Claude McKay publishes a collection of his early poetry, Harlem Shadows. It will be considered one of the important early works of the Harlem Renaissance, a flowering of African-AmericanAfrican American literature and art.

PBS Learn More: The Harlem Renaissance
From ExxonMobil Masterpiece Theater

1400
Blues diva Bessie Smith records "Down Hearted Blues," which becomes a phenomenal success, revives the dying Columbia Record Company, and earns her the title "Empress of the Blues."

PBS Learn More: Bessie Smith Bio
From JAZZ

1400
A. Phillip Randolph organizes the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first successful African American trade union.

PBS Learn More: A. Philip Randolph for Jobs and Freedom
From WETA

1400
Countee Cullen, considered one of the finest poets of the Harlem Renaissance, publishes his first collection of poems, Color.

PBS Learn More: The Harlem Renaissance
From ExxonMobil Masterpiece Theater

1400
Singer and dancer Josephine Baker performs in Paris in "La Revue Negre," and becomes one of the most popular entertainers in France.

NPR Learn More: The Lady Was A Spy
From Morning Edition
1400
Jazz trumpeter and vocalist Louis Armstrong forms his "Hot Five" band. He will become a jazz legend and a cultural icon.

NPR Learn More: Louis Armstrong
From NPR Jazz

PBS Learn More: Louis Armstrong Bio
From JAZZ

1926
Langston Hughes publishes The Weary Blues, his first book of poetry. A pivotal force in the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes will go on to become one of the 20th century's most recognized American writers.

1927
Duke Ellington's jazz group "The Washingtonians" begins a five-year engagement at The Cotton Club in Harlem. Their performances, broadcast on radio, will lay the groundwork for Ellington's rise to national prominence.

1400
W. D. Fard founds the Nation of Islam, a religious movement based on African American separatism, in Detroit. After a few years, he turns the NOI over to follower Elijah Muhammad, who builds it into a major movement.

NPR Learn More: The Nation of Islam's New Message
From The Tavis Smiley Show
1931
Nine African American youths are accused of raping two white women, and tried for their lives and quickly convicted in Scottsboro, Alabama. The "Scottsboro Boys" case attracts national attention and will help fuel the civil rights movement.

NPR Learn More: Interview with director of Scottsboro: An American Tragedy
From Weekend Edition

PBS Learn More: Scottsboro: An American Tragedy
From American Experience

1932
The U.S. government begins a 40-year study in Tuskegee, Ala., on the effects of syphilis in 400 African American men, never telling the subjects they have the disease or offering any treatment. President Bill Clinton will apologize in 1997.

NPR Learn More: Remembering Tuskegee
From Morning Edition

PBS Learn More: An Apology 65 Years Late
From The Online News Hour

1932
African American sculptor Augusta Savage establishes the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts in New York, at the time the largest art center in the nation.

1935
Jazz pianist Count Basie forms a band that will become famous as Count Basie and His Orchestra, one of the foremost big bands of the swing era.

PBS Learn More: Count Basie Bio
From JAZZ

1936
Track-and-field athlete Jesse Owens wins four gold medals in the Berlin Olympics, thwarting Adolf Hitler's plan to use the games to demonstrate "Aryan supremacy."

1937
Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston publishes her second novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, to great acclaim.

NPR Learn More: Ten Plays by Zora Neale Hurston Discovered
From Morning Edition
1937
Joe Louis becomes the heavyweight boxing champion of the world by defeating James J. Braddock.



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