| North Carolina Civil
Rights Time Line
Rights Time Line
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
1952 Catholic parish schools in North Carolina
1952-54 Waccamaw Indian School
opens in Columbus County. It operates until 1969.
1953 Elementary schools at Fort Bragg army base
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
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
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
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
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
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
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