Black History Timeline: 1900–1909

Booker T. Washington Dines With President Roosevelt

Corbis / Getty Images

In 1896, the Supreme Court rules that separate but equal is constitutional through the Plessy v. Ferguson case. Immediately, local and state laws are created and, in some cases, enhanced to prohibit Black people from participating fully in American society. However, almost immediately, African Americans begin working to prove their worth in American society. The timeline below highlights some of the contributions as well as some tribulations faced by Black Americans between 1900 and 1909.

1900

James Weldon Johnson holding a telephone from the early 1900s
NAACP executive secretary James Weldon Johnson, the Black civil rights activist determined to get anti-lynching legislation through Congress in the 1920s.

Library of Congress / Getty Images

February 12: "Lift Every Voice and Sing" is performed for the first time at an assembly marking President Abraham Lincoln's birthday at Stanton School, Florida's first high school for Black students. Brothers James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson had written the lyrics and composition for the song, which within two years is considered the African American national anthem. James actually had composed "Lift Every Voice and Sing" as a poem in 1899, and John set it to music for the assembly early this year, according to the Library of Congress, which adds that the song "is permeated with the legacy of slavery, only two generations gone, and haunted by the continued violent oppression of African Americans."

July 23: The New Orleans Race Riot begins. Lasting four days, 12 Black people and seven White people are killed.

The National Negro Business League is established by Booker T. Washington with the support of Andrew Carnegie in Boston, Massachusetts. The purpose of the organization is to promote African American entrepreneurship.

Nannie Helen Burroughs establishes the Women's Convention of the National Baptist Convention. Burroughs, who will serve as the corresponding secretary of the convention for 48 years, helps the organization grow its membership to 1.5 million by 1907.

An estimated two-thirds of landowners in the Mississippi Delta are African American farmers. Many had purchased land following the Civil War.

Since the end of the Civil War, an estimated 30,000 African American men and women have been trained as teachers. The work of these educators assists the African American population throughout the United States to learn to read and write.

1901

Booker T. Washington

Interim Archives / Getty Images

March 3: George H. White, the last Black American elected to Congress, leaves office. No other Black person is elected to Congress for nearly three decades until Oscar De Priest takes office in 1929, and it will be nearly a century before another Black resident of North Carolina is elected to Congress when Eva Clayton and Mel Watt win seats in 1992.

In October: Bert Williams and George Walker become the first African American recording artists. They will make a total of 15 recordings—both as soloists and a duo—with the Victor Talking Machine Company.

October 16: Washington becomes the first African American to eat at the White House. President Theodore Roosevelt had invited Washington there for a meeting. At its conclusion, Roosevelt invites Washington to stay for dinner.

Nov. 3: Washington also publishes his autobiography, "Up From Slavery." The work is originally published in a serialized format with chapters appearing on a regular basis in The Outlook, a weekly publication that at the time ranks as the third-largest magazine in the United States. The last chapter of Washington's autobiography will appear in the magazine on February 23, 1901.

1903

W.E.B. Du Bois, about 1918
W.E.B. Du Bois, about 1918.

GraphicaArtis / Getty Images

February 1: W.E.B. Du Bois publishes "The Souls of Black Folks." The collection of essays explores issues concerning racial equality and denounces Washington's beliefs. The book will come to be viewed as a seminal work in the history of sociology and a cornerstone of Black literature and one of the greatest works of nonfiction, of any type, in the English language, making many top-100 nonfiction book lists of all time. The Guardian newspaper in Great Britain, for example, ranks Du Bois' work as No. 51 on its nonfiction books list. Du Bois' introduction—or as he terms it, the "Forethought"—begins with these lines explaining why he publishes the book:

"Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being Black here at the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line. I pray you, then, receive my little book in all charity, studying my words with me, forgiving mistake and foible for sake of the faith and passion that is in me, and seeking the grain of truth hidden there."

July 28: Maggie Lena Walker charters St. Luke's Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, Virginia. Walker is the first American woman—of any race—to be a bank president and inspires Black Americans to become self-sufficient entrepreneurs. Walker says of her accomplishments:

"I am of the opinion [that] if we can catch the vision, in a few years we shall be able to enjoy the fruits from this effort and its attendant responsibilities, through untold benefits reaped by the youth of the race."

1904

Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary McLeod Bethune with students of the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls. Public Domain

October 3: Mary McLeod Bethune opens the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls with $1.50. The school will undergo several mergers and name changes over the years, eventually taking the name Bethune-Cookman College on April 37, 1931, when it achieves junior college status and "to reflect the leadership of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune" and Bethune-Cookman University in 2007, the year after it adds a master's degree program. The school grows to an enrollment of more than 3,700 students as of January 2020.

1905

Leaders of the Niagara Movement
Leaders of the Niagara Movement.

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

May 5: African American newspaper The Chicago Defender is published by Robert Abbott. Heralding itself as "The World's Greatest Weekly," it will become the nation's most influential Black weekly newspaper by World War I, with more than two-thirds of its readership base located outside of Chicago, according to PBS.org.

July 5: Black residents of Nashville boycott streetcars to show their disdain for racial segregation. Stretching through 1907, it will become "the largest example of an urban transportation protest before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, half a century later," according to BlackPast.

July 11–13: The Niagara Movement holds its first meeting. The organization, founded by Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter, later morphs into the NAACP.

1906

Cornell University Sage Hall
Cornell University is the site of the nation's first fraternity or Black male students, Alpha Phi Alpha. Upsilon Andromedae / Flickr

April 9: Black evangelist William J. Seymour leads the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. This revival is considered the foundation of the Pentecostal Movement. The revival is set to be a three-year event, but instead it stretches through 1915.

August 13–14: A riot known as the Brownsville Affray breaks out between African American soldiers and local citizens in Brownsville, Texas. One citizen is killed. In the coming months, President Roosevelt discharges three companies of Black soldiers.

September 22: The Atlanta Race Riot breaks out and lasts for two days. Ten Black people and two White people are killed in the fray.

December 4: Seven African American male students attending Cornell University establish the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Serving as "a study and support group for minority students who (face) racial prejudice," it is the first college fraternity for Black men in the U.S.

1907

Madam C.J. Walker Portrait
Madam C.J. Walker (Sarah Breedlove) the first female self made millionaire in the world poses for a portrait circa 1914.

Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Alain Locke becomes the first African American Rhodes Scholar. Locke will go on to be an architect of the Harlem Renaissance, also known as the New Negro Movement.

Edwin Harleston, a security guard in the H. J. Heinz food-packing plant and a budding journalist, establishes The Pittsburgh Courier. It will grow to become one of the most prestigious Black newspapers in the United States with a circulation of 250,000 and over 400 employees in 14 cities.

Madam C.J. Walker, a washerwoman working and living in Denver, develops hair care products. Her first product is Madam Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp conditioning and healing formula. She will become a famous entrepreneur, philanthropist, and social activist who revolutionizes the hair care and cosmetics industry for Black women, and one of the first Black American women to become a self-made millionaire.

1908

Library at Howard University
The library at Howard University. David Monack / Wikimedia Commons

January 15: The nation's first Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, is established at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The 25 founders of the group—who are among the fewer than 1,000 Black students enrolled in higher education institutions this year—will all go on to earn Bachelor of Arts degrees from the university.

August 14: The Springfield Race Riot begins in Springfield, Illinois. It is considered the first of its kind in a Northern city in more than 50 years.

1909

Members of the San Diego Chapter of the NAACP with W.E.B. Du Bois
Members of the San Diego Chapter of the NAACP with W.E.B. Du Bois. Public Domain

February 12: In response to the Springfield Riot and a number of other incidents, the NAACP is founded. Du Bois, working with Mary White Ovington, Ida B. Wells, and others, form the organization whose mission is to end inequality. Today, the NAACP has more than 500,000 members and works on local, state, and national levels to "ensure the political, education, social and economic equality for all, and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination." 

April 6: African American Matthew Henson, Admiral Robert E. Peary, and four Inuit people become the first men to reach the North Pole. Henson, a young sailor, had joined expedition leader Peary on his second Arctic excursion, which fell 150 miles short of the goal. This—Peary's third attempt and Henson's second—is successful, even earning official recognition from Congress in 1911, but historians later believe that navigational errors may have placed the third expedition a few miles short of the pole.

December 4: The New York Amsterdam News is published for the first time. James H. Anderson puts out the first edition of the paper "with six sheets of paper, a lead pencil, a dressmaker’s table and (a) $10 investment," according to the paper's website. Anderson sells the first copies of the paper for two cents each from his home at 132 W. 65th Street in Manhattan. The publication goes on to become "one of the most important Black newspapers in the country and today remains one of the most influential Black-owned and -operated media businesses in the nation," the paper's website states.

The first national African American Catholic fraternal order, The Knights of Peter Claver, is established in Mobile, Alabama. It grows to become the largest African American Catholic lay organization in the United States. 

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Lewis, Femi. "Black History Timeline: 1900–1909." ThoughtCo, Feb. 4, 2021, thoughtco.com/african-american-history-timeline-1900-1909-45430. Lewis, Femi. (2021, February 4). Black History Timeline: 1900–1909. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/african-american-history-timeline-1900-1909-45430 Lewis, Femi. "Black History Timeline: 1900–1909." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/african-american-history-timeline-1900-1909-45430 (accessed July 30, 2021).