African-American History Timeline: 1920–1929

Marcus Garvey In Harlem
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

The 1920s, often called the Roaring Twenties, is synonymous with the Jazz Age and the Harlem Renaissance. African-American musicians, visual artists, and writers were able to achieve great fame and notoriety for their work during this period. 

Meanwhile, African-American communities were ravaged following riots, and students were establishing fraternities and sororities on college campuses. 


January 16: Zeta Phi Beta, an African-American sorority, is founded at Howard University.

February 13: The Negro National Baseball League is founded by Andrew Bishop "Rube" Foster (1879–1930). Eight teams are part of the league.

August 18: The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified, granting women the right to vote. However, African-American women residing in Southern states are barred from voting through poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses.

August: Marcus Garvey (1887–1940) holds the first international convention of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in New York City.


The first exhibition of African-American artists is held at the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library. Artists such as Henry Ossawa Tanner are featured in the exhibit.

January 3: The Binga State Bank is established in Chicago by Jesse Binga (1856–1950). The banking institution is considered the largest African-American bank in the United States before the stock market crash of 1929.

March: "Shuffle Along," written by Noble Sissle (1889–1975) and Eubie Blake (1887–1983), debuts on Broadway. The musical is considered the first major theatrical production of the Harlem Renaissance.

March: Harry Pace establishes Black Swan Phonograph Corporation. The company is the first African-American record company. Prominent artists include Mamie Smith, Bessie Smith, and Ethel Waters.

May 31: The Tulsa Race Riot begins. When the riot ends the following day, an estimated 60 African-Americans and 21 white residents have been killed. In addition to these casualties, the African-American business district known as Deep Greenwood is destroyed.

June 14: Georgiana R. Simpson becomes the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D., in philology from the University of Chicago. The next day, Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander becomes the second, in economics, from the University of Pennsylvania. Soon after, Eva B. Dykes graduates from Radcliffe.


The Harmon Foundation is developed to recognize and assist African-American artists.

January 26: The Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, the first of its kind, passes the U.S. House of Representatives in part due to the efforts of the NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson and Ida B. Wells. It is blocked from getting to the Senate for a vote by southern Democrats. 

November 12: Sigma Gamma Rho, an African-American sorority is founded in Indianapolis.


The National Urban League begins publishing the magazine Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life. Edited by Charles S. Johnson, the publication becomes one of the leading boosters of the Harlem Renaissance.

Rajo Jack DeSoto (born Dewey Gatson) is the first African-American to participate in a professional car race, in a souped-up Model T Ford.

January 1: The Rosewood Massacre occurs, a race riot which ended in the complete razing of the town of Rosewood, Florida.

January 3: William Leo Hansberry (1894–1965), a professor at Howard University, teaches the first course on African history and civilization at a university in the United States.

January 12: Marcus Garvey is arrested for mail fraud and sent to a federal prison in Atlanta.

February: Bessie Smith records her first sides for Columbia. Her song “Down Hearted Blues” will become the first million-selling record by an African-American recording artist.

February 23: In the Moore v. Dempsey court case, the Supreme Court led by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes ruled that federal courts were duty bound to review claims of mob domination of state trials, and ordered released six black men who had been convicted in an Arkansas trial.

September: The Cotton Club opens in Harlem.

November 20: Garrett T. Morgan patents the caution light, also known as the three-position traffic signal.


James Van Der Zee (1886–1983) begins his career as a photographer.

The National Bar Association is founded by African-American attorneys in Des Moines, Iowa. It is incorporated in 1925.

Clifton Reginald Wharton (1899–1990) becomes the first African-American to rise to the rank of U.S. ambassador through the U.S. Foreign Service (rather than being appointed).


Alain Locke (1885–1954) publishes The New Negro, an anthology featuring African-American writers and visual artists of the Harlem Renaissance.

August 8: 30,000 unmasked Ku Klux Klansman march on Washington, DC.

August 25: A. Philip Randolph establishes the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Maids.

October: The American Negro Labor Congress, a communist-based organization, is developed to recruit and help African-Americans fight racism and discrimination.


Arturo Alfonso Schomburg sells his collection of books and artifacts to the Carnegie Corporation. The collection becomes part of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City.

Alfred Knopf publishes "The Weary Blues," the first volume of poetry by 24-year-old Langston Hughes.

February: Negro History Week commemorating the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, is celebrated for the first time. It was developed by historian Carter G. Woodson.

June 26: Dr. Mordecai Johnson is the first African-American president of Howard University.


Journalist Floyd Joseph Calvin becomes the first African-American radio host when he begins broadcasting from WGBS in Pittsburgh.

January 7: The Harlem Globetrotters basketball team plays its first game. It was established the previous year in Chicago by Abe Saperstein.

December 2: Marcus Garvey is deported from the United States.


August 5: Atlanta Daily World, an African-American daily newspaper, begins publication.

November 6: Oscar DePriest is the first African-American to represent a northern, urban district when he is elected to Congress representing the South Side of Chicago. He was the first African-American elected to Congress in the 20th century.


June 20: The influential Fats Waller song "Ain’t Misbehavin'" is part of a musical, "Hot Chocolates," that debuts on Broadway. Louis Armstrong plays in the pit orchestra and is featured on the song nightly.


  • Anderson, Sarah A. “‘The Place to Go’: The 135th Street Branch Library and the Harlem Renaissance.The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy 73.4 (2003). 383–421. 
  • Schneider, Mark Robert. "African Americans in the Jazz Age: A Decade of Struggle and Promise." Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006
  • Sherrard-Johnson, Cherene (ed.). "A Companion to the Harlem Renaissance." Malden, MA: John Wiley and Sons, 2015.
  • Smith, Jessie Carney. "Black Firsts: 4,000 Ground-Breaking and Pioneering Historical Events." Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 2012