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.
November - 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
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
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).
John Brown speaks to the Chatham Convention at Chatham, Canada West.
It was one of a series of abolitionist conventions in the United States
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.
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%)
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.
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
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.
12 - American Civil War begins with an attack on Fort Sumpter.
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.
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
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.
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.
- 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%)
- 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.
- 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.
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%)
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
Straker elected Wayne County Circuit Court Commissioner, making him
the highest African American elected official in the state until after
the Second World War.
- William W. Ferguson is elected as the first African American to hold
a seat in the Michigan state legislature.
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
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.
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.
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.