Notable Moments in Black History 1917-1942

1917

The Houston Mutiny and other riot erupts between Black soldiers and White citizens; two Blacks and 11 Whites are killed. Twenty-nine Black soldiers are executed for participation in the riot.

Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen found The Messenger, a Black socialist magazine, in New York City.

The Supreme Court in Buchanan v. Warley strikes down the Louisville, Ky. ordinance mandating segregated neighborhoods.

1918

A race riot in Chester, Pa. claims five lives, three Blacks and two Whites.

In nearby Philadelphia, another race riot breaks out killing four, three Blacks and one White.

In Oklahoma City, a precursor to the more famous 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma riot occurs and, as reported by the AFRO, virtually wiping out segments of that city’s Black community.

The Armistice ends World War I. However, the northern migration of African Americans continues. By 1930 there were 1,035,000 more Black Americans in the North than in 1910.

1919

Following its revival in 1915 at Stone Mountain, Ga., the Ku Klux Klan by the beginning of 1919 is operating in 27 states. Eighty-three African Americans are lynched, among them a number of returning soldiers still in uniform.

The West Virginia State Supreme Court rules that an African American is denied equal protection under the law if his jury has no Black members.

There are 25 race riots that take place throughout the nation prompt the term, Red Summer. The largest clashes take place in Charleston, S.C.; Longview, Texas;  Washington, D. C.; Chicago, Ill.; Omaha, Neb. and Elaine, Arkansas.

Claude McKay publishes If We Must Die, considered one of the first major examples of Harlem Renaissance writing.

Father Divine founds the Peace Mission Movement at his home in Sayville, New York.

South Dakota resident Oscar Micheaux releases his first film, “The Homesteader,” in Chicago. Over the next four decades Micheaux will produce and direct 24 silent films and 19 sound films, making him the most prolific Black filmmaker of the 20th century.

1920

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority is founded at Howard University.

The decade of the 1920s witnesses the Harlem Renaissance, a remarkable period of creativity for Black writers, poets, and artists, including among others Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.

Andrew Rube Foster leads the effort to establish the Negro National (Baseball) League in Kansas City, Mo. Eight teams are part of the league.

The 19th Amendment to the Constitution is ratified giving all women the right to vote. Nonetheless, African-American women, like African-American men, are denied the franchise in most Southern states.

Marcus Garvey leads the first international convention of the Universal Negro Improvement Association which he calls the International Convention of Negro Peoples of the World. The meeting is held at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Former heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson opens the Club Deluxe in Harlem. Two years later, gangster Owney Madden buys the club and changes its name to the Cotton Club.

1921

“Shuffle Along” by Noble Sissle and Baltimorian Eubie Blake opens on Broadway. This is the first major play of the Harlem Renaissance.

At least 60 Blacks and 21 Whites are killed in the Tulsa Race Riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, today referred to as ‘Black Wall Street’.  The violence destroys a thriving African-American neighborhood and business district called Deep Greenwood.

Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, University of Pennsylvania; Eva B. Dykes, Radcliff and Georgiana R. Simpson, University of Chicago, become the first African-American women to earn Ph.D. degrees.

Harry Pace forms Black Swan Phonograph Corporation, the first African American-owned record company in Harlem. His artists will include Mamie and Bessie Smith.

One of the earliest exhibitions of work by African-American artists, including Henry Ossawa Tanner and Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, is held at the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library.

Jesse Binga founds the Binga State Bank in Chicago. It will become the largest African-American bank in the nation before it collapses during the 1929 stock market crash.

1934

W.E.B. Du Bois resigns from the NAACP in a dispute over the strategy of the organization in its campaign against racial discrimination. Roy Wilkins becomes the new editor of Crisis magazine.

After operating under a number of names, the theatre today known as the Apollo Theater opens under its current name in Harlem.

1935

The Harlem Race Riot, a one day riot, erupts leaving two people dead.

The Michigan Chronicle is founded in Detroit by Louis E. Martin.

The Maryland Supreme Court rules in Murray v. Pearson that the University of Maryland must admit African Americans to its law school or establish a separate school for Blacks. The University of Maryland chooses to admit its first Black students.

Mary McLeod Bethune calls together the leaders of 28 national women’s organizations to found the National Council of Negro Women in New York City.

1936

The first meeting of the National Negro Congress takes place in Chicago. Nearly 600 Black organizations are represented.

Mary McLeod Bethune is named Director of the Division of Negro Affairs, the National Youth Administration. She is the highest ranking Black official in the Roosevelt administration and leads the Black Cabinet. She is also the first Black woman to receive a presidential appointment.

Track star Jesse Owens wins four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics.

Dr. William Augustus Hinton’s book, Syphilis and Its Treatment, is the first published medical textbook written by an African American.

1937

William H. Hastie, former advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt, is confirmed as the first Black federal judge after his appointment by Roosevelt to the federal bench in the Virgin Islands.

In October, Katherine Dunham forms the Negro Dance Group, a company of Black artists dedicated to presenting aspects of African American and African-Caribbean Dance. The company eventually becomes the Katherine Dunham Group.

1938

Joe Louis beats Max Schmeling in a rematch of his 1936 defeat by the German boxer.

Jacob Lawrence holds his first solo exhibition at the Harlem YMCA and completes his Toussaint L’Overture series.

Crystal Bird Fauset of Philadelphia becomes the first African-American woman elected to a state legislature when she is chosen to serve in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

The U.S. Supreme Court in Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada rules that a state that provides in-state education for Whites must provide comparable in-state education for Blacks.

1939

Popular contralto Marian Anderson sings at Lincoln Memorial before 75,000 people after the Daughters of the American Revolution refuse to allow her to perform at Constitution Hall.

Jane M. Bolin becomes the first African-American woman judge in the United States when she is appointed to the domestic relations court of New York City.

1940

Hattie McDaniel receives an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in her role in “Gone with the Wind.” She becomes the first Black actor to win an academy award.

Dr. Charles R. Drew presents his thesis, Banked Blood, at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. The thesis includes his research which reveals that plasma can replace whole blood transfusions.

Benjamin Oliver Davis Sr., is named the first African-American general in the regular army.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is established in New York City.

1941

Mary Lucinda Dawson founds the National Negro Opera Company in Pittsburgh.

The U.S. Army creates the Tuskegee Air Squadron, which will soon be known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

President Franklin Roosevelt issues Executive Order 8802, desegregating war production plants and creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC).

The United States enters World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Dorris “Dorie” Miller is later awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism during that battle.

The desperate need for factory labor to build the war machine needed to win World War II leads to an unprecedented migration of African Americans from the South to the North and West. This migration transforms American politics as Blacks increasingly vote in their new homes and put pressure on Congress to protect civil rights throughout the nation. Their activism lays much of the foundation for the national Civil Rights Movement a decade later.

1942

While teaching at Livingstone College in North Carolina, Margaret Walker publishes the award-winning poem For My People, which she began as her master’s thesis at the University of Iowa.

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) is founded in Chicago by James Farmer Jr., George Houser, Bernice Fisher, James Russell Robinson, Joe Guinn and Homer Jack.

The U.S. Marine Corps accepts African-American men for the first time at a segregated training facility at Camp Montford Point, N.C.  They will be known as the Montford Point Marines.

Charity Adams Earley becomes the first Black woman commissioned officer in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs) while serving at Fort Des Moines.

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