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A Biography of America

The Redemptive Imagination – Timeline, 1876 – 1999

Revisit the events of 1876 – 1999


Presidential Election Crisis 
Voting irregularities, especially in the South, result in an inconclusive presidential election between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden. Even though Hayes won the popular vote and came very close to winning in the electoral college, a backroom decision between party leaders in a Washington hotel gives the election to Hayes as part of a deal to end federal occupation of the former Confederate states.


Reconstruction Ends
Federal troops are withdrawn from the former Confederate states, formally ending the Reconstruction Era.

Molly Maguires Hanged 
After a decade of labor strife in Pennsylvania coal mining towns, eleven Irish-American miners accused of being members of the secret Molly Maguire society are hanged, following testimony by James McParlan, an undercover agent for the mine owners.

Chief Joseph Surrenders 
Federal troops force about 750 Nez Percé led by Chief Joseph from their ancestral lands. Chief Joseph leads his people on a long trek across the Rockies toward Canada, but in numerous encounters with U.S. troops, most of the braves are killed or wounded and the Nez Percé are weakened, without food and blankets. Forty miles from the safety of the border, Chief Joseph surrenders, saying, “I will fight no more forever.”

Arizona Apaches Forced onto Harsh Land 
Under orders of U.S. General James Carleton, Apaches on the Chiricahua Reservation are driven to a hot desert wasteland with little vegetation and no game, where they are expected to live on rations supplied by Indian agents. General Carleton orders that anyone attempting to leave the reservation be shot.

National Railroad Strike 
Striking railroad workers at Martinsburg, West Virginia spark others in Pennsylvania to strike, and soon the strike spreads nationwide. Railroads are shut down for a week, until federal troops restore order after firing on the strikers, killing several.



Exodusters Head for Kansas 
Thousands of former slaves and their families, especially from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, begin to migrate to Kansas to avoid the rising tide of racial violence and suppression in the South. In 1879 and 1880 the large migration of African Americans, called Exodusters, becomes national news. Many take up farming or establish small businesses. Some become cowboys.


Jim Crow Law Segregates Tennessee Railroads 
The State of Tennessee becomes the first to pass laws that segregate railroad passengers by race. Soon many other southern states follow suit.

Tuskegee Institute Founded in Alabama 
Booker T. Washington, age 25, establishes an all-black industrial school near Tuskegee, Alabama that becomes a model for industrial training for African Americans.

Clara Barton Founds American Red Cross 
Former Civil War nurse Clara Barton returns from European relief work to found the American Association of the Red Cross, which she leads until 1904


Haymarket Riot in Chicago 
On May 1, Chicago police fire on a group of strikers, killing four and wounding others. Three days later the Knights of Labor organize a protest rally in Haymarket Square. An unknown person throws a bomb into a group of policeman, killing several and causing general mayhem that results in the deaths of more strikers. The May 1 incident becomes an international day of commemoration for workers and unions.

AF of L Founded 
Samuel Gompers, a cigar maker and union activist, founds the American Federation of Labor, the first successful attempt to create a federation of craft unions, building on his 1881 organization, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions. The AF of L focuses on organizing skilled workers.


Utopian Novel Predicts Future of the U.S. 
Edward Bellamy, an American socialist, publishes his popular and influential utopian novel Looking Backward, 2000-1887, which predicts that in the year 2000, all industries will be owned by the government and all wealth will be distributed equally among the citizens.


Wounded Knee Marks End of Indian Resistance 
Five hundred troops of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry massacre three hundred and fifty Sioux men, women, and children in South Dakota in the last major confrontation between the U.S. Army and the Plains Indians.


Labor Strikes for Higher Wages, Shorter Hours 
A series of strikes across America relate mostly to worker’s demands for short hours, especially the eight hour work day, and higher wages.


Homestead Strike Violence 
Steelworkers striking at Andrew Carnegie’s Homestead, Pennsylvania steel mill clash with private Pinkerton guards with casualties among both steelworkers and Pinkertons. The five-month-long strike ends with the firing of union leaders and workers returning to their 12-hour shifts.

Anti-Lynching Crusade 
African American journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett writes passionately against lynching and founds anti-lynching societies and grassroots efforts to end racial discrimination in New York, Boston, and other cities.


Coxey’s Army Marches on Washington 
Unemployed workers from Ohio march to Washington, DC, to protest the lack of work and call for public assistance.

Pullman Strike Broken by Federal Troops 
When George Pullman lowers workers’ wages by 25% at his Pullman Palace Car Company, the American Railway Union, led by Eugene V. Debs, calls for a strike. The Chicago strike quickly spreads to a national railroad strike as Pullman cars are boycotted. President Grover Cleveland orders out federal troops to quell the violence associated with the strike, resulting in the deaths of seven strikers.


Booker T. Washington — Atlanta Compromise 
Booker T. Washington, the educator and founder of Tuskegee Institute, is launched into national prominence as an African American leader with his speech at the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition, in which he proposes that black civil rights and social equality are not as important as the economic advancement of African Americans in the South.


Spanish American War
The war lasts 112 days and results in U.S. acquisition of the former Spanish territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. Cuba becomes independent of Spain. More U.S. troops die from disease, especially from contaminated meat, than die in battle.


Carry Nation Wields Axe Against Kansas Saloons 
In her struggle against alcoholic beverages, Carry Nation literally destroys Kansas saloons by wielding an axe and breaking up saloon furniture and bottles and kegs of liquor.


Booker T. Washington — Up from Slavery
Booker T. Washington’s autobiography is a popular success in book form after having been printed as a magazine series the year before. The book adds to Washington’s fame as the leading spokesperson for African Americans and helps raise considerable money for the Tuskegee Institute from wealthy Northern philanthropists, including Andrew Carnegie.


Anthracite Coal Strike 
John Mitchell, leader of the United Mine Workers (UMW) launches a five-month-long strike involving more than 145,000 coal miners. The price of coal skyrockets, forcing the closing of schools in many cities and towns. President Theodore Roosevelt intercedes in the strike. In the settlement, workers gain pay raises, but the UMW fails to gain recognition from mine owners as a legitimate agent of the workers.


Wright Brothers Successfully Fly Airplane 
The first successful manned flight in a gasoline powered aircraft takes place at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, when Wilbur and Orville Wright, two Dayton, Ohio bicycle mechanics, achieve flights of 120 feet and 852 feet.

W. E. B. Du Bois Publishes Souls of Black Folk 
The African American scholar W. E. B. Du Bois publishes a major exploration of black life in America and publicly criticizes the leadership of Booker T. Washington.


Ida Tarbell Exposes Standard Oil 
Muckraking journalist Ida M. Tarbell publishes her brilliant expose of the Standard Oil Company.


Brownsville, Texas Race Riot 
In a supposed shooting spree by African American soldiers stationed nearby, one citizen of Brownsville is killed and a woman is reportedly raped. A race riot follows in its wake. While the matter is investigated, no clear culprits are found. Nonetheless President Theodore Roosevelt angers African Americans by dishonorably discharging three whole companies of black soldiers, including some who have received the Medal of Honor.


Springfield Race Riot 
For two days in August, white mobs roam black neighborhoods in Springfield, Illinois, burning homes and terrorizing black residents. Two African Americans are lynched, a half dozen are shot to death, and scores injured. The riot ends when more than 4,000 state militia march into Springfield. At least 2,000 black residents flee the city.


NAACP Founded 
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is founded in New York City by liberal whites and African Americans to promote racial justice and civil rights. The next year it becomes a permanent organization. The first president is prominent white Boston attorney, Morefield Storey. The director of publications is W. E. B. Du Bois, African American scholar and founder of the Niagara Movement in 1905.


Society of American Indians Founded 
Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa) and others found the Society of American Indians, the first Indian rights organization created by and for Indians.


Suffragists March on Washington 
Alice Paul leads a parade in the nation’s capital of more than 5,000 women demonstrating for the right to vote. Men along the parade route attack the women with lighted cigars, or jeer and even slap some of the demonstrators. The parade is stopped before it can reach the White House. More than three dozen women sustain injuries.


Ludlow, Colorado Coal Strike 
State militia and striking coal miners seeking recognition for the United Mine Workers clash at Ludlow, Colorado. Twenty-one persons die, including women and children who are burned to death when soldiers set fire to tents. The strikers hold the coal fields for more than a month and only end the strike when federal troops arrive to restore order.

World War I Begins in Europe 
World War I begins, but the United States avoids formal entry into the war until 1917. A handful of volunteer American flyers enter the war in 1916.

Margaret Sanger Raises Issue of Birth Control 
Feminist Margaret H. Sanger publishes The Woman Rebel, a magazine about contraception, which coins the term “birth control.” To escape prosecution for distributing information about the use of contraceptive measures, she flees to England.


Women for Peace 
Women march in New York City to protest the horrors of the World War.


U.S. Declares War on Germany 
On April 6, the United States Congress declares war on Germany.

Jeannette Rankin Opposes War 
Jeannette Rankin, a Republican from Montana and the first woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, votes against the U.S. declaration of war against Germany.


Armistice Ends World War I
The Great War ends with an armistice signed November 11. The slaughter of the war has killed millions of Germans, Russian, French, and Austrian and Hungarian soldiers, and hundreds of thousands of British, Italian, and Turkish soldiers. U.S. war dead number 115,000. Another 20 million are wounded or maimed in the war.


Race Riots in Many U.S. Cities 
Twenty-six race riots occur in U.S. in the volatile year following the end of World War I. Some riots involve soldiers returning from the war. Major riots in Chicago and Washington, DC leave scores dead.

Millions of Workers Strike 
A year of major domestic unrest sees strikes ranging from Boston policemen to steelworkers and coal miners. During the year more than four million workers are off the job because of strikes or lock-outs. Many strikes are over the issue of shorter working hours, higher wages, and the recognition of unions.

Prohibition Begins 
Ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution ushers in the era of Prohibition. Congress passes the National Prohibition Act (The Volstead Act) outlawing the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. Prohibition lasts until 1933, when the Twenty-First Amendment repeals the provisions of the Eighteenth Amendment. Some consider Prohibition a “noble experiment” others see it as a disaster and failure.


Women Gain Right to Vote 
Ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment guarantees women the right to vote, the culmination of a national movement that began in 1848.


Margaret Sanger Founds Birth Control League 
Margaret Sanger (see 1914) founds the American Birth Control League to promote understanding of the use of contraceptives and family planning. This organization becomes the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1942.


Black Union Founded 
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters is founded by A. Phillip Randolph. The union allies with the American Federation of Labor and begins a long struggle with the Pullman Company, the largest single employer of African Americans, for better wages and working conditions.

Ku Klux Klan Resurgence 
40,000 hooded Klansmen march down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. The Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist group which intimidated blacks in the South during Reconstruction, is re-established in 1915 and grows in numbers during the 1920s with chapters in northern cities and towns as well as in the South. In addition to the usual themes of white supremacy, the Klan opposes foreign immigration.


Lindbergh Makes Transatlantic Flight 
American aviator Charles A. Lindbergh completes the first non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, from New York to Paris. He becomes an instant world-wide hero and celebrity.


Stock Market Crash 
Stock prices plummet beginning October 24, 1929, in the largest sell-off of stock ever before seen on Wall Street, marking the beginning of the Great Depression in the United States and other countries around the world.


FDR Inaugurated — New Deal Era Begins 
Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt is sworn in as President of the United States and immediately launches measures to counter the Great Depression. His program is called the New Deal, an ambitious governmental effort to provide relief for millions of unemployed and to turn the economy around. While some New Deal measures help, only U.S. entry into World War II in 1941 finally ends the Great Depression.


CIO Founded 
Labor leader John L. Lewis heads the newly founded Congress of Industrial Organizations.


Marian Anderson Sings at Lincoln Memorial 
African American contralto Marian Anderson is denied use of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) hall for a concert in Washington, DC, because of her race. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigns from the DAR over the issue and an outdoor concert is arranged at the Lincoln Memorial that draws 75,000 persons.

World War II Begins 
World War II begins in Europe, when Great Britain and France declare war on Germany.


FDR Issues Order on Racial Discrimination 
African American labor leader A. Phillip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, threatens to protest racial discrimination in the workplace by conducting a March on Washington. The plan is called off when President Roosevelt issues an executive order banning racial discrimination in U.S. defense plants.

U.S. Enters World War II 
The day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States declares war on Japan and three days later declares war on Germany and Italy.

Jeannette Rankin Opposes War Again 
As she did in World War I, Jeannette Rankin votes against the U.S. declaration of war against Japan. This time she is the only dissenting vote.


Japanese American Internment 
Between March 25 and August 12, 120,000 West Coast Japanese Americans are ordered into internment camps under Executive Order 9066, which gives the War Department the authority to to exclude anyone who might threaten the war effort.


Bombs Dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 
A single U.S. B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, drops an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, killing more than 100,000 people and destroying the city. Three days later another U.S. bomber drops an atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki, Japan, killing more than 60,000 persons. Japan surrenders, ending World War II, on August 10. The age of nuclear weapons begins.


Korean Conflict Begins 
Communist forces in North Korea invade South Korea, involving the United States in a three-year undeclared war to halt the spread of communism in Asia.


Public School Desegregation 
The Supreme Court rules in the case of Brown v. Board of Education that public schools segregated by race are unequal and orders desegregation “with all deliberate speed.”


Rosa Parks Arrested on Bus 
Rosa Parks, a black resident of Montgomery, Alabama is arrested for refusing to move to the back of a segregated bus. Her action inspires many others to protest racial segregation.

AF of L and CIO 
The American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations merge, creating an umbrella organization representing workers in both trade and industrial unions.


Soviet Union launches first orbiting artificial satellite, Sputnik. The Space Race escalates and U.S. begins to step up science and math education.


Civil Rights March on Washington 
Several hundred thousand persons, white and black, gather on the Washington, DC, mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. They hear leaders including Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., speak for civil rights for African Americans and for racial tolerance on the part of all Americans, regardless of creed or color.


Passage of Civil Rights Act 
Congress passes the most sweeping and comprehensive civil rights legislation in almost a hundred years.

War in Vietnam Escalates 
Congress passes the Tonkin Gulf Resolution giving President Lyndon Johnson broad authority to conduct war even in the absence of an official declaration of war. The war in Vietnam escalates into a major conflict.


National Organization for Women Founded 
Feminist Betty Friedan becomes the first president of the National Organization for Woman.


Man Walks on Moon 
U.S. Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong becomes the first person from Earth to set foot on the Moon, on July 21, 1969, during the Apollo 11 mission.


Vietnam War Ends 
Ceasefire agreement results in the end of U.S. involvement in the long Vietnam Conflict. U.S. forces withdraw quickly from South Vietnam.

Roe v. Wade Decision Shapes Abortion Issue 
The Supreme Court declares a Texas law outlawing abortion unconstitutional. The decision nullifies most state laws that make abortion illegal. The controversy over abortion continues to be hotly contested in many local, state, and national elections. It affects both major political parties and becomes a national campaign issue in several presidential elections.

AIM at Wounded Knee 
Members of the militant American Indian Movement take hostages and a trading post at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, demanding the rights guaranteed Indians in treaties with the United States.


President Nixon Resigns 
Richard M. Nixon, facing certain impeachment by the House of Representatives for his role in the cover-up and various crimes related to the burglary of Democratic party offices in the Watergate building complex, resigns from office, the only U.S. president to do so.


Air Traffic Controllers Strike 
President Reagan fires 12,000 air traffic controllers for staging an illegal strike.


Equal Rights Amendment Defeated 
A long campaign to add an equal rights amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution to protect women’s rights gets within three states of ratification before opposition forces, lead by conservative housewife Phyllis Schlafly, launches a Stop ERA campaign that is successful in defeating the measure.


Persian Gulf War
U.S. leads a war effort against Iraq.


L.A. Riots
Riots erupt in Los Angeles after a jury acquits four policemen accused of beating African American Rodney King, in spite of videotaped evidence of the incident.


Clinton Impeachment
President Clinton impeached by House of Representatives and acquitted in Senate trial.