Detroit Historical Events American/World Historical Events

1850 - Detroit Population: Total: 21,019. Black: 587. (2.8%)

1850 September 18 - President Millard Fillmore signs the Fugitive Slave Act into law as part of the Compromise of 1850. Because of a provision that any person can be deputized to assist in the capture of refugees from slavery, the act radicalizes Michigan's anti-slavery activists.

October 11 - Unscrupulous real estate brokers are circulating rumors in African- American neighborhoods that refugees from slavery are being captured and returned to slavery. They then purchase homes, real property and other belongings at panic prices, as African Americans relocate to Canada.

November - The Whig Party, a precursor to the Republican Party, sweep into office throughout Michigan, gaining judgeships, prosecutors, sheriffs and clerks. Cass and Hillsdale counties, the two busiest points of entry for refugees, have near total Whig/abolitionist control.

- While passing the proposed amended Michigan state constitution, voters reject a separate ballot issue calling for "Equal Suffrage to Col'd Persons." The vote is 32,000+ yeas to 12,800+nays. Even Detroit - hot bed of Underground Railroad support - rejects the measure 3,320 yeas to 608 nays.

1851 January - Henry Bibb begins publication of Voice of the Fugitive, an abolitionist newspaper, from the town of Sandwich in what is now southwestern Windsor, Ontario.

May 4 A grand jury acquits the clerk of a Detroit court of obstruction of justice charges, despite overwhelming evidence that in January, he tipped-off refugees from slavery that a Tennessee enslaver had just applied for a warrant for their arrest.

May - In a two-day period, 800 -- 1,000 refugees from slavery pass through Michigan on the Michigan Central Railroad, to Detroit and on to Windsor after the Harris family, refugees living in Chicago, are returned to slavery in Missouri.

St. Matthew's Protestant Episcopal Mission, a predominantly African-American church, dedicates a chapel at St. Antoine and Congress.

1854 Second Baptist Church Fort Street building is destroyed by fire.

1855 Michigan enacts a "personal liberty" law, in defiance of the Fugitive Slave Act. Michigan county jails may not be used to imprison refugees from slavery and officers of the court must defend any who are brought forward by bounty hunters.

1857 Second Baptist Church, the first African-American church in Detroit, dedicates its new location on Croghan Street (later renamed Monroe Street, for its first full-time minister William C. Monroe).

1858 Abolitionist John Brown speaks to the Chatham Convention at Chatham, Canada West. It was one of a series of abolitionist conventions in the United States and Canada.

1859 March 27 - John Brown comes to Detroit and meets with Frederick Douglass at the home of William Webb for the purpose of enlisting the support of Douglass and others for a raid of the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferryas a prelude to broader plan, ultimately unsuccessful, to force an end to slavery through a mass slave rebellion. (There is no evidence that any of those in attendance actively supported Brown).

Reverend William C. Monroe, emigrates to Liberia, along with other members of the American Colonization Society. The Society, founded by white supporters of gradual emancipation, worked to re-settle free African Americans in Africa.



1851 March 7 - The United States Supreme Court hands down its decision in the case of Dred Scott v. Sanford. In his decision, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney rules that African Americans were not and could never be citizens of the United States. Furthermore, they "had no rights that a white man was bound to respect."

1853 Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893) begins publishing the Provincial Freeman, an abolitionist newspaper, in Chatham, Ontario.

1860 - Detroit Population: Total: 45,619. Black: 1,402. (3%)

1863 February 3 - Congress passes the "Negro Regimen Law", which allows African- American men to serve in the Union Army.

1863 March 6 - In the midst of Civil War draft antagonism, white mobs storm African-American neighborhoods after William Faulkner, an African American, is falsely accused of raping two girls, one of whom is white.

July - The U.S. War Department gives Michigan Governor Austin Blair authority to raise an African-American regiment, which will be called the 1st Michigan Colored Regiment or 1st Michigan Colored Volunteers.

1864 March - The 1st Michigan Colored Volunteers, federalized as the 102nd U.S. Colored Troops (Infantry) musters in at Detroit. Among its members are two of Sojourner Truth's sons, as well as a host of refugees from bondage and their sons who have returned from Canada. Josiah Henson (the man Harriet Beecher Stowe used as the model for Uncle Tom) and Mary Ann Shadd Cary, publisher of the abolitionist newspaper, the Provincial Freeman, in violation of Canadian law, personally recruited many of these men.

October - Detroiter John D. Richards is on the four-member Executive Board of the National African American Convention (NAAC), which meets in Syracuse, New York. The NAAC was one of a series of conventions where middle class African Americans and white abolitionists met to strategize on abolitionism and later, Negro suffrage.

1865 January - The Michigan State Equal Rights League of Colored People forms in Adrian, Michigan.


September - The Equal Rights League of Michigan forms at a Detroit convention.

September 30 - The 102nd U.S. Colored Infantry musters out in South Carolina and returns home to Detroit.

1866 African-Americans of mixed ancestry win suffrage rights in Michigan.

1868 April - The proposed amended Michigan constitution, with a provision for "Negro Suffrage," goes down to defeat.

1869 October 11 - African-American children are legally admitted to the Detroit public school system, although there remains great resistance for many subsequent year.



1861 April 12 - American Civil War begins with an attack on Fort Sumpter.

1863 January 1 - President Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation which declares that all enslaved African Americans "states in rebellion" are free. Technically, it does not apply to Delaware, Maryland or Kentucky Which did not secede from the Union.

1865 April 9 - The American Civil War ends with General Robert E. Lee's surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, VA.


1870 - Detroit Population: Total: 79,577
African American: 2,235 (2.8%)

1870 April 7 - African Americans in Detroit hold a large celebration upon the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

1871 Fannie Richards, Detroit's first African-American teacher, begins the first kindergarten class in Detroit at Everett School.

1872 Detroiter Elijah McCoy patents the "automatic lubricating cup." The devise allows locomotives to self-lubricate, thus eliminating the need for frequent stops to oil moving parts.

1875 November - Samuel C. Watson, an African American and a Republican, appears on the Detroit ballot for Common Council. He is not elected due to suspected fraud; however, the following March, M.I. Miles, the Democrat elected in his place will resign so as to allow Watson to become the first African American to hold an elective office in Detroit.

1876 November - John Wilson, a prominent Detroit barber, is elected Wayne County Coroner and becomes the first African American to hold elective office in Michigan.




1880 - Detroit Population: Total: 116,340. Black: 2,821. (2.4%)

1880 November - Obadiah C. Wood, an African American, is elected to the board of estimates, the upper house of the Detroit Common Council. He is the first African American elected to an office in Detroit.

1881 November - Samuel C. Watson, an African American, finally wins a seat on the Detroit Common Council.

1883 The Detroit Plaindealer, Detroit's first African-American newspaper, begins weekly publication.

1889 Hazen S. Pingree is elected Mayor of Detroit. His series of Progressive Era reforms eliminates a number of political patronage jobs, negatively affecting African Americans in government since the old-line Republican / abolitionists / Radical Reconstructionists, who wanted to exact punishment on the white South for its instigation of the Civil War, were key to African-American opportunity in government employment.




1890 - Detroit Population: Total: 205,876. Black: 3,431. (1.7%)

1890 D. Augustus Straker argues the case of Ferguson v. Gies, the so-called, " Great Civil Rights case of Michigan." The Case stems from Atty. William W. Ferguson having been denied service in Gies Resturant. From then on, African Americans could not be legally barred from public accommodations.

D. Augustus Straker elected Wayne County Circuit Court Commissioner, making him the highest African American elected official in the state until after the Second World War.

1892 November - William W. Ferguson is elected as the first African American to hold a seat in the Michigan state legislature.

The Phyllis Wheatly Home for Aged Colored Ladies opens. It is managed by a group of Detroit social elite "club women," both white and African American, including Fannie Richards, Detroit's first African-American public school teacher, and Mary Ann Shadd Cary, a former abolitionist and a former publisher of the Provincial Freeman, an abolitionist newspaper.

1898 Prominent Second Baptist Church members Mrs. Robert Pelham and Etta Taylor establish the Detroit Study Club. Originally a literature and poetry reading group, the club evolves into a leading social reform agency fostering moral and racial up-lift.

1899 Ransom E. Olds opens Olds Motor Works on Jefferson Avenue, beginning the fledgling automobile industry in Detroit.



1895 Educator Booker T. Washington delivers the "Atlanta Compromise" speech at a convention in Atlanta, Georgia. He advances the position that African Americans should remain content within a system of racial segregation and abandon their quest for social and political rights.

1896 The United States Supreme Court rules on Plessy v. Ferguson, a case originating in Louisiana. The Court upholds and elevates the "separate-but-equal" doctrine into national policy.