Terms to Consider
American Slavery: Beginning when the first enslaved Africans were brought to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, the legal institution of human enslavement, primarily of Africans, African Americans, and indigenous people, continued to be practiced throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, until the ratification of the 13th amendment on December 6, 1865.
Transatlantic Slave Trade: A portion of the global slave trade, controlled by Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, English and French traders, that transported approximately 12 million enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas from the 16th to 19th century. Although the Portuguese and Spanish had already begun capturing and transporting Africans as early as the late 1400’s, the transatlantic slave trade refers to transactions that used the triangle trade route and the Middle Passage. Congress during the Jefferson administration prohibited the importation of enslaved Africans in 1808, however illegal smuggling and domestic trading continued, as the demand for labor in the South increased.
Gold Coast: Now known as the West African nation of Ghana, the area referred to as the Gold Coast was named after the region’s most prized resources.
The Middle Passage: The portion of the triangular trade in which millions of enslaved men, women and children were transported from Africa, across the Atlantic, to the Americas. During this horrific voyage, Africans were chained together and densely packed onto ships for a 3-4 month trek, after which they would be sold. During this journey, countless numbers of people perished due to disease, starvation, malnutrition, suicide and murder at the hands of their captors. Although uprisings were fairly common, few were successful.
Triangle Trade: Also known as triangular trade, this term is used to indicate trade amongst 3 distinct ports. The triangular route that ships follow is influenced by winds and currents. Although there have been several triangle trade routes that have developed throughout history, the transatlantic slave trade is the most notorious.
Chattel Slavery: A form of slavery in which human beings are treated as personal property of their own. Under this system, slave status is imposed upon birth and an enslaved person could be bought or sold without their consent.
Plantation: A large farm that specializes in the cultivation of a particular crop such as cotton, sugar cane, cocoa, or tobacco. In the West Indies and the American South, slaves were sold to plantation owners, who would force them to harvest these crops.
The Peculiar Institution: A euphemism for slavery in the American South. In the original usage of this expression, the word “peculiar” means “one’s own” and refers to a characteristic that is particular to one place or group of people. In this case, it refers to the practice of slavery being a tradition that is specific to the South and was used as a way to avoid using a far harsher word- slavery.
Call and Response: A form of performative interaction between a speaker and audience in which the speaker “calls” and the listeners issue a verbal response. Call-and-response is often used in African and African-American storytelling, rituals, and songs.
Ring Shout: A ritual dance in which worshippers shuffle in a circle while stomping and clapping. This practice was introduced to the West Indies and the U.S. by African slaves and has its origins in Central and West African dance.
Negro Spiritual: Christian songs created by African slaves in the U.S. that represent an original tradition of describing the hardships of slavery while giving glory to God.
Harriet Tubman: An African American abolitionist, humanitarian, Union spy, and former slave, who most notably led dozens of slaves to freedom.
Frederick Douglass: An African American abolitionist, orator, writer, and former slave, whose work, including several best-selling biographies, greatly influenced the abolitionist movement. Without his consent, he would become the first African American nominated for Vice President on the Equal Rights Party ticket.
Sharecropping: An agricultural system in which a landowner allows a tenant to use a portion of his land for farming, with a portion of the crop’s yieldings going to the landowners. This system became popular after slavery ended.
Ida B. Wells: An African-American journalist, editor, suffragist and one of the founders of the NAACP. She led an anti-lynching campaign in the 1890’s, writing in-depth accounts and lecturing on the horrors of lynching.
The American Civil War: The four-year war (1861–65) between the United States and 11 Southern states that seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America. The Confederate States were eventually defeated by the Union army.
Reconstruction: The period following the Civil War, in which the South was socially revolutionized and reintroduced into the Union.
Jim Crow: State and local laws that enforced racial segregation in the South.
Ku Klux Klan: Ku Klux Klan, either of two distinct U.S. hate organizations that have employed terror in pursuit of their white supremacist agenda. One group was founded immediately after the Civil War and lasted until the 1870s; the other began in 1915 and has continued to the present.
The Harlem Renaissance: A blossoming (c. 1918–37) of African American culture, particularly in the creative arts, and the most influential movement in African American literary history. Embracing literary, musical, theatrical, and visual arts, participants sought to reconceptualize “the Negro” apart from the white stereotypes that had influenced black peoples’ relationship to their heritage and to each other. While the renaissance was not confined to the Harlem district of New York City, Harlem attracted a remarkable concentration of intellect and talent and served as the symbolic capital of this cultural awakening.
The Great Migration: In U.S. history, this refers to the widespread migration of African Americans in the 20th century from rural communities in the South to large cities in the North and West. From 1916 to 1970, it is estimated that some six million black Southerners relocated to urban areas in the North and West.
The Red Summer: Refers to the summer and early autumn of 1919, which saw hundreds of deaths due to race riots and lynching across the country. In the South, KKK activities were revived, resulting in 64 lynching in 1918 and 83 in 1919. Race riots broke out in Washington, D.C., Tennessee, Texasx and Arkansas; and in the North the worst race riots erupted in Chicago and Omaha, Nebraska.
Duke Ellington: An American pianist, jazz composer, bandleader, and one of the originators of big-band jazz, creating one of the most distinctive ensemble sounds in all of Western music.
Marcus Garvey: A leader who organized the first important American black nationalist movement (1919–26), based in New York City’s Harlem. Garvey attended school in Jamaica until he was 14 and later returned to the island in 1914 to form the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which sought, among other things, to build in Africa a black-governed nation.
Zora Neale Hurston: American folklorist and writer associated with the Harlem Renaissance who celebrated the African American culture of the rural South.
Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka: A Supreme Court case in which, on May 17, 1954, it was ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits the states from denying equal protection of the laws to any person within their jurisdictions. The decision declared that separate educational facilities for white and African American students were inherently unequal.
Thurgood Marshall: Lawyer, civil rights activist, and associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1967 to 1991; the first African American member of the Supreme Court. As an attorney, he successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
The Little Rock Nine: A group of African American high-school students who challenged racial segregation in the public schools of Little Rock, Arkansas. The group—consisting of Melba Pattillo, Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Minnijean Brown, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls, Jefferson Thomas, Gloria Ray, and Thelma Mothershed—became the centre of the struggle to desegregate public schools in the United States, especially in the South.
The Murder of Emmett Till: A black 14 year old boy who was brutally murdered by a group of white men in 1955 in Money, Mississippi. A white woman named Carolyn Bryant accused Emmett of sexually harassing her, although she would later disclose that those allegations were false. Her husband, Roy Bryant and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, abducted Till from the home of Mose Wright, his great-uncle, and drove him to a barn where they, along with a couple other men, beat, tortured and mutilated him before shooting him in the head and disposing of his body in the Tallahatchie River. Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till insisted that his casket be kept open during his funeral, although he had been brutalized beyond recognition, stating "I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby." His murder made national news and is viewed as one of the major catalysts that sparked the Civil Rights Movement.
Rosa Parks: An African American civil rights activist whose refusal to relinquish her seat on a public bus to a white man precipitated the 1955–56 Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama, which is recognized as one of the sparks that ignited the U.S. civil rights movement.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Baptist minister and social activist who led the Civil Rights Movement from the mid-1950s until his death by assassination in 1968 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. His leadership was fundamental to that movement’s success in ending segregation. King rose to national prominence as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which promoted nonviolent tactics, such as the massive March on Washington in 1963. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Ella Baker: American community organizer and political activist. In the early 1930s, she helped organize the Young Negroes Cooperative League, which was created to form cooperative groups that would pool community resources. She also played a crucial role in the development of the NAACP, SCLC, and The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) which organized sit-ins, freedom rides, voter registration drives, and marches.
Jo Ann Robinson: An activist and educator who helped organize the Montgomery Bus Boycotts.
Freedom Riders: A group of black and white protesters who took part in a series of political protests against segregation in 1961, in which they would ride interstate buses throughout the south as a way to prove that segregation bans were not being enforced by local governments. The Freedom Riders were met with violence, arrests and in one case, a bus they were on was firebombed. Their protests caused President Kennedy to enforce stricter guidelines on banning travel segregation.
Project C: Also, known as the Birmingham Campaign, Project C was one of the most influential campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement. The initiative organized lunch counter sit-ins, marches and boycotts of stores that refused to desegregate. Their demonstrations were met with violent attacks using police dogs and fire hoses and were the subject of many iconic photos.
Greensboro, NC Sit Ins: A nonviolent protest in Greensboro, N.C., that began on Feb. 1, 1960, when Ezell Blair, Jr., Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond—all African Americans students- sat at a segregated lunch counter at a Woolworth’s store. Although the staff refused to serve them, they could not be arrested or thrown out and the following day, they returned with 20 more black students to stage a second sit in. The success of these protests led to a larger movement with sit-ins being staged in cities across the country.
Bull Connor: An American politician who served as Commissioner of Public Safety for the city of Birmingham, Alabama. He was in opposition of the Civil Rights Movement and enforced racial segregation and was responsible for directing police to use fire hoses and dogs against activists.
J Edgar Hoover: Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from 1924 until his death in 1972. It was later found that Hoover secretly abused his power, creating a covert program under the name COINTELPRO, which would harass civil rights activists and use illegal methods to collect information for confidential files on political leaders and organizations such as the Black Panther Party and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Medgar Evers: Civil-rights activist who became the NAACP’s first field secretary in Jackson, Mississippi and helped to recruit members and organize voter-registration drives and boycotts. In 1963, he was shot and killed in front of his home by a white segregationist.
Roy Wilkins: Served as the executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1955 to 1977.
Fannie Lou Hamer: An activist who served as field secretary for the SNCC and worked to desegregate the Mississippi Democratic Party.
March on Washington: A demonstration held in Washington, D.C. on on August 28th, 1963, where more than 200,000 people gathered to protest racial discrimination. During this demonstration, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream,” speech.
Mahalia Jackson: Gospel music singer and activist who sang at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961 and later performed at the 1963 March on Washington.
John Lewis: Civil rights leader who worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and led the march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965; a demonstration that ended in violence when the police intervened. This landmark event would become known as “Bloody Sunday.”
Daisy Bates: Journalist and civil rights activist who led the NAACP’s protest in requesting immediate integration of public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Anna Arnold Hedgeman: A civil rights leader, politician, educator, and writer who served as the executive director of Harry Truman's 1948 presidential campaign and later appointed to the Health, Education, and Welfare Department when he was elected.
Harry Belafonte: A singer, actor, producer, and activist known for popularizing the Caribbean folk songs known as calypsos. As a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, he was active in the civil rights movement and other humanitarian efforts.
The Bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church: A 1963 terrorist attack in Birmingham, Alabama on the predominantly African American 16th Street Baptist Church, in which 4 members of the Ku Klux Klan detonated 15 sticks of dynamite as parishioners were preparing for Sunday morning service. This resulted in 22 injuries and the deaths of four girls- Addie Mae Collins (age 14), Carol Denise McNair (age 11), Carole Robertson (age 14), and Cynthia Wesley (age 14). This tragic event contributed to the growing support for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
George Wallace: U.S. Democratic Party politician and four-time governor of Alabama who led the South’s fight against federally ordered racial integration.
Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth: Minister and civil rights activist who, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., helped to establish the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), in an effort to end segregation in the South.
Kwame Nkrumah: A Ghanaian nationalist leader who led the Gold Coast’s drive for independence from Britain and presided over its emergence as the new nation of Ghana. He headed the country from independence in 1957 until he was overthrown by a coup in 1966.
Patrice Lumumba: African nationalist leader and the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from June to September 1960. He was forced out of office during a political crisis and later assassinated.
Jomo Kenyatta: African statesman and nationalist, and the first prime minister (1963–64) and then the first president (1964–78) of independent Kenya. Before his political career, he served as general secretary for the East Africa Association (EAA), an organization whose main purpose was to recover lands lost when Kenya became a British crown colony.
Nelson Mandela: Black nationalist who served as the first black president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. His negotiations in the early 1990s with then president, F.W. de Klerk, helped end the country’s apartheid system of racial segregation. Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1993.
President John F. Kennedy: 35th president of the United States from 1961 to 1963. During his time in office, he faced a number of foreign crises, including the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. He was a supporter of the Civil Rights Movement. He was assassinated while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.
Freedom Summer: Also known as the Mississippi Summer Project, this volunteer campaign initiated in 1964 to register black voters in Mississippi. The project was also responsible for setting up dozens of community centers and Freedom Schools to aid the black population of Mississippi.
Voting Rights Act: A law signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, aimed at erasing the legal barriers that prevented African Americans from voting.
President Lyndon B. Johnson: Originally elected vice president in 1960, Johnson became the 36th president of the United States after the assassination of Pres. John F. Kennedy. During his administration he signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The 1965 Watts Riots: A series of violent confrontations between residents of Watts, a predominately black neighborhood of Los Angeles, and local police began on August 11, 1965 and lasted for 6 days. The immediate cause of the uprising was the arrest of an African American man, Marquette Frye, by a white California Highway Patrol officer, though it remains unclear whether excessive force was used to subdue Frye. The riots resulted in the deaths of 34 people.
Malcolm X: Black nationalist leader and prominent figure in the Nation of Islam. While in prison in his early 20’s, he became a member of the Nation of Islam, changing his name to Malcolm X. After his parole in 1952 he quickly rose to become one of the organization's most influential leader who emphasized black self-determination, and black self-defense. He would eventually leave the Nation of Islam, embrace Sunni Islam, and was later assassinated by 3 members of the Nation of Islam in 1965.
Bloody Sunday: A 1965 march headed out of Selma, Alabama, that resulted in violent attacks on protesters. Between 525 and 600 marchers attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where they were met by state troopers. When they refused to disband, the troopers began beating them with nightsticks, firing tear gas and charging the crowd, all while the violence was broadcast to the American public. 50 were injured and 17 marchers were hospitalized.
Rev C.T. Vivian: Minister, author, and close friend of Martin Luther King Jr. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The Ballot or the Bullet: The title of a speech by Malcolm X, that was delivered at Cory Methodist Church in Cleveland, Ohio on April 3, 1964. In this speech, Malcolm encouraged African Americans to exercise their right to vote, and warned that if they were prevented from doing so, it would be necessary to take up arms and respond to this injustice with violence.
Betty Shabazz: Educator and activist, who is perhaps best known as the wife of Malcolm X.
Vietnam War: A conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, pitting the communist government of North Vietnam and its allies in South Vietnam (the Viet Cong), against the government of South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States. The conflict began in 1955 and ended in 1975 with the fall of Saigon.
Muhammad Ali: Boxer and social activist born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., and later changing his name when he converted to Islam. Ali was the first fighter to win the world heavyweight championship on three separate occasions and he successfully defended this title 19 times.
Jimi Hendrix: Rock guitarist, singer, and composer who is one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century, although his career only lasted 4 years before his death. In 1969, he headlined the Woodstock Music and Art Fair and delivered one of his most infamous performances, which featured a distorted rendition of the "The Star-Spangled Banner".
The Detroit Riots of 1967: A series of violent confrontations between residents of predominantly black neighbourhoods of Detroit, Michigan and the city’s police department that began on July 23, 1967, and lasted five days, resulting in the deaths of 43 people. The riot is considered one of the catalysts of the militant Black Power movement.
Black Power Olympic Protest: On the podium during a medal ceremony at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City, 2 black athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their black-gloved fists in a silent gesture that Smith later stated was a “human rights salute.”
The 1967 Newark Riots: A 4 day riot in Newark, New Jersey that was one of 159 race riots that occurred in U.S. cities during a period known as the "Long Hot Summer of 1967". It resulted in the deaths of 26 people.
Carl Stokes: Lawyer and politician, who became the first African American to be elected as mayor of a major U.S.city, serving as mayor of Cleveland, Ohio from 1967 to 1971.
Coretta Scott King: Civil rights activist who was the wife of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Fred Hampton: An activist and revolutionary who became chairman, and later, deputy chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP). Hampton was killed in 1969 during a raid by a tactical unit organized by the Illinois State's Attorney's Office, the Chicago Police Department and the FBI.
President Richard Nixon: The 37th president of the United States elected in 1969, who, faced with impeachment for his role in the Watergate scandal, became the first American president to resign from office. During his time in office, he would bring national attention to drug abuse by declaring drugs “public enemy number one”, catalyzing the term “The War on Drugs”. This so-called war was focused on the eradication of drugs and incarceration of those involved in the sale and use of drugs and would continue to be a legislative focus for years to come with the election of Ronald Reagan.
President Ronald Reagan: Served as the 40th President of the United States from 1981 to 1989. Reagan rekindled the War on Drugs in 1982, as a response to the growing crack cocaine epidemic. Because crack was a drug most widely available in low-income, inner-city neighborhoods, due to its low price point, Reagan’s drug enforcement bills disproportionately affected impoverished communities of color. Bills outlining mandatory penalties for drug offenses were criticized for creating racial disparities in prisons while doing little to reduce the availability of the drug on the streets.
President George H. W. Bush: Politician and businessman who was vice president of the United States (1981–89) and the 41st president of the United States (1989–93). As president, Bush assembled a multinational force to compel the withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War.
The 1992 Los Angeles Riots: The 1992 Los Angeles riots, also known as the Rodney King riots, and the South Central riots, occurred in April and May of 1992. The uprising began after a jury acquitted four police officers of the use of excessive force after they’d been videotaped brutally beating a black man named Rodney King, after a high speed pursuit. Over a 6 day period, 2,383 people were injured, and more than 12,000 were arrested.
Million Man March: A massive 1995 gathering of African-American men in Washington, D.C., organized by Louis Farrakhan, the National African American Leadership Summit, the Nation of Islam and local chapters of the NAACP.
Prison Industrial Complex: The term used to describe the rapid expansion of the US inmate population which provides cheap prison labor from which private prison companies can make large profits.
Anti-Drug Abuse Act: A bill passed by Congress in 1986 which enacted new mandatory minimum sentences for illegal drugs. Under this bill, a person could receive a minimum sentence of 5 years without parole for possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine, while a person in possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine, faced the same punishment. This disparity would contribute to the disproportionate rates of incarceration for black men, because crack-cocaine was primarily available in communities of color.
Ferguson, MO: The site of months of protests in 2014 after the shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old African-American man, Michael Brown, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. Protests would continue after a grand jury chose not to indict Wilson in the murder of of Brown.
Dr. Cornel West: Philosopher, scholar of African American studies, and political activist whose book Race Matters (1993) was published one year after the start of the Los Angeles Riots.
Sonia Sanchez: Poet, playwright, and educator, noted for her black activism.
Abiodun Oyewole: Poet, educator and founding member of the music and spoken-word group The Last Poets.