North Carolina Civil Rights Time Line

Civil Rights Time Line
(North Carolina)

1830 The General Assembly receives from the governor a copy of David Walker's Appeal . . . to the Coloured Citizens of the World, published in Boston the previous year by David Walker, an African American born free in Wilmington in 1785. Appalled by slavery, he advocates open rebellion. The General Assembly bans his writings, as well as other "seditious" works that "might excite insurrection."

The General Assembly enacts "black codes" restricting the activities of free and enslaved African Americans in an effort to prevent slave revolts.

1831 The General Assembly passes legislation forbidding black preachers to speak at gatherings of slaves from different owners, and forbidding anyone to teach slaves to read and write.

1835 The state constitution is extensively revised, with amendments that provide for direct election of the governor and more democratic representation in the legislature. However, new laws take voting rights away from free people of color.


1838 A few hundred North Carolina Cherokee refuse to submit to forced removal. They hide in the mountains and evade federal soldiers. A deal is struck allowing these Cherokee to remain in the state legally. The federal government eventually establishes a reservation for them.

1839 The General Assembly establishes common schools, or free public schools, in the state. The first one opens in Rockingham County the following year.

1840 The General Assembly passes a law prohibiting people of color from owning or carrying weapons without first obtaining a license.

1861 North Carolina lawmakers prohibit any black person from owning or controlling a slave, making it impossible for a free person of color to buy freedom for a family member or friend.

North Carolina secedes from the Union on May 20.

1861-65 Approximately 42,000 North Carolinians lose their lives in the Civil War. Many slaves leave their plantations and seek refuge behind Northern lines in Federal-occupied areas of the state, and some join the Union army. A large number of Cherokee in western North Carolina support the Confederacy. The well-known fighting unit Thomas's Legion has two Cherokee companies. The Lumbee in eastern North Carolina are forced to work on Confederate fortifications near Wilmington. Many flee and form groups to resist imprisonment by the army. Henry Berry Lowry leads one such group, which continues to resist white domination long after the war ends.

1865 A state convention votes to repeal the Ordinance of Secession and end slavery. North Carolina ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which officially abolishes slavery.

Freedmen hold a political march in Raleigh to ask for equal rights. Later 106 African American delegates attend the Freedmen's Convention in the capital city.

The Baptist church founds a school in Raleigh to teach theology and biblical interpretation to freedmen. It later begins post-secondary instruction and becomes Shaw University in 1875.

1868 A new state constitution gives all adult males the right to vote and hold office. It requires the General Assembly to "provide for a general and uniform system" of free schools for all children between the ages of six and 21.

North Carolina ratifies the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which grants citizenship to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States."
North Carolina rejoins the United States.

An election places in office the first African American state legislators: three senators and 17 representatives.

The U.S. government recognizes the Eastern Band of Cherokee.

1869 North Carolina ratifies the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gives all men the right to vote.

The General Assembly attempts to revitalize the public schools by reorganizing them and providing $100,000 in funding.

James Walker Hood, an African American minister and an assistant superintendent in the N. C. Bureau of Education, reports that the state has 257 black schools enrolling 15,657 students.

1870 Under a tribal government, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee elect a chief and write a constitution.

In the "Kirk-Holden War," Republican governor William W. Holden proclaims Alamance and Caswell Counties in a state of insurrection after the Ku Klux Klan perpetrates acts of violence, including several murders. The governor declares martial law and deploys troops. More than 100 men are arrested. Democrats impeach Holden and remove him from office the next year.

1871 Congress investigates the role of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina politics. U.S. soldiers arrest nearly 1,000 men for alleged involvement with the Klan, and 37 are convicted. The investigation helps limit Klan activity in the state for several decades.

1875 Amendments to the state constitution establish separate public schools for black and white children and forbid marriage between African Americans and whites.

1877 The General Assembly authorizes the first state-supported institution of higher learning for African Americans in North Carolina. The Howard School, which opened in 1867 in Fayetteville, is chosen as this teacher training facility and is renamed the State Colored Normal School. It eventually becomes Fayetteville State University.

1879 Charles N. Hunter and his brother form the N. C. Industrial Association, which tries to improve the lives of African Americans by emphasizing economic progress rather than political activity. Hunter's Colored Industrial Fair in Raleigh becomes the state's most popular social event for blacks. Hunter later starts the O'Kelly Training School in Wake County in 1910, called by a 1917 Baltimore newspaper the "finest rural training school in the entire South."

1885 North Carolina recognizes the Croatans, now known as the Lumbee, as an American Indian tribe and authorizes separate schools for them.

1887 The Croatan Normal School opens in Robeson County. It eventually becomes Pembroke State College, Pembroke State University, and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

1888 Fifty-four Croatan Indians in Robeson County petition the U.S. government for school funds.

1889 The Eastern Band of Cherokee is incorporated under North Carolina law.

African American members of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union break away to form WCTU No. 2, which will have 400 members in 19 chapters by 1891. Like the original group, the new one reports directly to the national organization. North Carolina is the only state to have a black women's temperance union.

1892 The State Colored Normal School at Elizabeth City opens to train African American teachers. It eventually becomes Elizabeth City State University.

Slater Industrial Academy is founded for African Americans. It eventually becomes Winston-Salem State University.

1893 The federal government opens the Cherokee Boarding School.

The state opens the Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race in Greensboro to teach practical agriculture and mechanical arts and to provide academic and classical instruction. It eventually becomes the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina and then N. C. A&T State University.

1896 George Henry White benefits from Fusion politics by winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives from North Carolina's 2nd Congressional District. He serves from 1897 to 1901 and seeks to promote and protect African American interests. He introduces the first anti-lynching bill and appoints African Americans to federal positions in his district. White is the last black representative for the next quarter century and the last from the state until 1992.

1898 The Wilmington Race Riot occurs when white Democrats overthrow Wilmington's elected Republican government. Whites burn the office and press of the African American newspaper the Daily Record. State newspapers report 11 blacks killed, 25 blacks wounded, and three white men killed. Black and white Republicans resign, and the Democrats install a white supremacist city government.

North Carolina sends three African American infantry companies and two white regiments to serve with other segregated units in the Spanish-American War.

John Merrick and Dr. Aaron Moore found the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company in Durham.

1900 Democrats regain control of the governorship and the General Assembly through a harsh white supremacy campaign.

The "Suffrage Amendment" to the state constitution institutes a literacy requirement for voting. It includes a "grandfather clause" that allows illiterate white men to vote but effectively disfranchises men of color.

Because many Cherokee had previously voted Republican, Democrats take advantage of an 1895 federal court ruling that the Cherokee are wards of the federal government to curtail their suffrage. Local registrars deny them the right to vote.

1903 Booker T. Washington addresses the N. C. Industrial Association's annual fair. He advises African Americans to content themselves working in agriculture, reject migration, and seek the type of education that will promote community building.

1906 Gov. Robert B. Glenn calls the National Guard to respond after five African American men are lynched in Salisbury.

1907 The General Assembly passes a compulsory school attendance law and authorizes secondary schools for whites.

1910 The National Religious Training School and Chautauqua, founded by Dr. James E. Shepard, opens in Durham. In 1923 it becomes a state-supported school to train African American teachers. Two years later, the General Assembly makes it the nation's first state-supported liberal arts college for blacks, named the N. C. College for Negroes. It eventually becomes N. C. Central University.

1911 The state recognizes a group of people descended from the Saponi, Tutelo, and Occaneechi tribes as the Indians of Person County.

The General Assembly changes the name of the Croatans to the Indians of Robeson County. The Croatan Normal School is renamed the Indian Normal School of Robeson County.

The Coharie Indians receive state recognition, but it is rescinded two years later.
The Greensboro city council passes an ordinance requiring separate white and black residential areas. Other southern cities have similar ordinances.

1913 The Indians of Robeson County change their name to Cherokee Indians of Robeson County.

1914 The Cherokee in western North Carolina hold the first Cherokee Fall Fair to encourage tourism in their region.

1918-32 More than 800 Rosenwald schools for African American students are built in North Carolina.

1919 Local officials deny voter registration to Cherokee veterans of WWI.

1920 The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives women throughout the nation the right to vote, though North Carolina does not ratify the amendment until 1971. Cherokee women try to register to vote, but local officials prohibit them.

1921 North Carolina establishes the Division of Negro Education, with Nathan C. Newbold as director and George E. Davis as his assistant.

1924 Federal law places Cherokee lands in trust with the federal government and grants citizenship rights to all Indians. North Carolina holds that these rights apply in the state only after tribal lands are allotted.

1928 Annie Wealthy Holland of Gates County forms the N.C. Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers, the first such organization for African Americans in the state.

1929
Union agitation and a textile workers' strike at Loray Mill in Gastonia lead to the deaths of the town's police chief and of white labor leader Ella May Wiggins.

1930 Federal law grants citizenship to Cherokee Indians in North Carolina.

1932 Black ministers in Raleigh protest the dedication of the War Memorial Auditorium because they have to sit in the balcony.

1935 Indians in Robeson County become eligible to organize under the federal Wheeler-Howard Act, passed the previous year. Individuals must be at least half-blood Indians to receive recognition.

1938 African American students in Greensboro initiate a theater boycott to protest the absence of racially balanced movies.

Only 22 of 209 people tested in Robeson County qualify for recognition as Indians. Qualification is based on assessment of physical features.

1939 In response to the Gaines decision, North Carolina begins offering graduate courses in liberal arts and the professions at the N. C. College for Negroes in Durham and in agriculture and technology at the Agricultural and Mechanical College in Greensboro.

1940 North Carolina abolishes the poll tax, used to limit minority voting.

The Indian Normal School of Robeson County grants its first college degree.

1942 The Southern Conference on Race Relations brings together 59 black leaders from 10 southern states at the N. C. College for Negroes. A committee headed by Charles S. Johnson of Fisk University issues the Durham Manifesto, which demands voting rights and equal educational and job opportunities for African Americans.

1943 Black tobacco workers go on strike at R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston-Salem.

The N. C. Conference of NAACP Branches forms in Charlotte.

1946-47 Cherokee veterans of WWII register to vote.

1946 Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, a Cherokee crafts cooperative, forms.

1947 CORE tests a Supreme Court decision against segregation in interstate bus travel by sending eight African American men on Greyhound and Trailways bus rides. Riders are arrested in Asheville, Durham, and Chapel Hill. This "Journey of Reconciliation" becomes the model for the 1961 Freedom Rides.

The first Indian mayor of the town of Pembroke is elected. Previously the governor appointed the mayors, all non-Indians.

1951 A court order requires the University of North Carolina to admit minority students to its graduate and professional schools. Floyd B. McKissick, Harvey Beech, J. Kenneth Lee, and James Lassiter become the first African Americans admitted to the law school.

1952 Catholic parish schools in North Carolina begin desegregation.

1952-54 Waccamaw Indian School opens in Columbus County. It operates until 1969.

1953 Elementary schools at Fort Bragg army base are desegregated.

The state changes the name of the people formerly called the Croatans, Indians of Robeson County, and Cherokee Indians of Robeson County to the Lumbee.

1954 In response to the Brown decision, the Greensboro school board begins an effort to desegregate the city's public schools.

1955 The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill admits the first African American freshmen: Leroy Frasier, John Lewis Brandon, and Ralph Frasier.

The General Assembly adopts a resolution opposing racial integration in the state's public schools. The legislature gives local school boards control over the desegregation of their schools.

1956 The General Assembly adopts the Pearsall Plan, which offers North Carolinians alternatives to attending integrated public schools.

1957 The Haliwa Indian School opens in Warren County. It operates until 1968.

Small numbers of African American students enroll in previously white public schools in Greensboro, Charlotte, and Winston-Salem, beginning a period of token integration.

Seven black activists led by Rev. Douglas E. Moore challenge segregation with a sit-in at Durham's Royal Ice Cream Company.

1958 A large group of armed Lumbee break up a Ku Klux Klan rally near Maxton.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visits North Carolina. He delivers speeches in Raleigh and Greensboro.

1960 SNCC forms in Raleigh on the campus of Shaw University.

Four black students from A&T College of North Carolina stage a peaceful sit-in after they are refused service at a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro. The mode of protest used by Ezell Blair, Franklin McCain, David Richmond, and Joseph McNeil quickly spreads across the South.

1965 North Carolina institutes the freedom-of-choice plan, which allows parents to choose the public schools their children attend.

The homes of Charlotte civil rights activists Kelly Alexander Sr., Fred Alexander, Julius Chambers, and Reginald Hawkins are bombed.

The Haliwa receive state recognition as an Indian tribe.

1968 A federal court rules the state's freedom-of-choice plan unconstitutional.

Henry E. Frye becomes the first African American elected to the N.C. House of Representatives in the twentieth century.

Howard Lee is elected mayor of Chapel Hill, making him the first African American mayor of a predominantly white southern city.

1968-69 African American parents and students in Hyde County protest school reassignments with a yearlong boycott of public schools.

Cafeteria workers at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill go on strike for better wages and opportunities. Black student activists lend their support.

1969 In Godwin v. Johnston County Board of Education, a federal court declares the Pearsall Plan unconstitutional.

Police and National Guard fire on civil rights demonstrators at N. C. A&T College in Greensboro. One student is killed, and five police officers are injured.

Durham resident Warren Wheeler founds Wheeler Flying Service, becoming the first African American to own a commercial airline.

1970 The Winston-Salem chapter of the Black Panther Party receives its charter from the national party. The chapter has its beginnings in the East Winston Organization of Black Liberation, a group of African American students advocating community activism to combat police brutality and racial discrimination. Other North Carolina cities also have Black Panther chapters.

1971 After a federal court in Charlotte orders cross-town busing to achieve integration of the public schools, the Supreme Court upholds the decision in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education.

A march to save North Carolina's historically black colleges and universities, which were threatened by the merger of all state-supported senior institutions into the University of North Carolina system, draws 3,000 students.

The Coharie and Waccamaw-Siouan receive state recognition as Indian tribes.

The General Assembly establishes the N. C. Commission of Indian Affairs with Bruce Jones, a Lumbee, as the first director.

The Lumbee Guaranty Bank in Pembroke is established. It is the first Indian-owned and -operated bank in the nation.

A white-owned grocery store is firebombed during racial violence in Wilmington. Nine African American men and a white woman, known as the Wilmington 10, are convicted of arson and other charges. They have their convictions overturned in 1980.

1972 Lumbee Horace Locklear becomes the first American Indian to pass the North Carolina bar exam.

Henry Ward Oxendine, a Lumbee from Robeson County, becomes the first American Indian elected to the General Assembly.

Tuscaroras from Robeson County join other Indians in occupying the Bureau of Indians Affairs building in Washington, D.C., during the Trail of Broken Treaties protest. The Tuscaroras steal 7,200 pounds of records from the building and take them to Robeson County.

Old Main, the oldest brick building at Pembroke State University and a symbol of cultural pride, burns under suspicious circumstances. It is reconstructed in 1979 and eventually houses the Department of American Indian Studies and the Museum of the Native American Resource Center.

The Guilford Native American Association incorporates in Greensboro.

1973 Clarence Lightner becomes Raleigh's first African American mayor. He serves until 1975.

1976 The Metrolina Native American Association incorporates in Charlotte.

The Waccamaw-Siouan tribe begins governing itself by tribal council and tribal chief.

1977 The General Assembly repeals the state's ban on interracial marriage.

The General Assembly declines to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

1979 Members of the Communist Party and the Ku Klux Klan clash during an anti-Klan rally in Greensboro. Klan gunfire kills five Communist supporters. A court later clears Klan members of murder charges.

Time line reprinted by permission from Tar Heel Junior Historian 44 (fall 2004), copyright North Carolina Museum of History, Division of State History Museums, Office of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.