Chronicling America provides free access to more than 16 million pages (and growing!) of historic American newspapers. Below is a sampling of guides we’ve created over the years that help you explore African American history in our digital newspaper collections. Stay tuned: we have big plans to add more guides – if you have any ideas we can work on, please let us know in the comments! And visit the Headlines and Heroes blog for more posts about African American history.
Booker T. Washington (1895-1915)
Booker T. Washington was an African-American leader, educator, and author. A more complete guide to finding a wide variety of material associated with Booker T. Washington in the Library’s digital collections can be accessed here.
Emancipation Proclamation (1862-1863)
Riding on the crest of the Antietam victory, President Lincoln boldly mandated the freedom of all American slaves within states that had seceded from the United States. Interpreted by Southerners as an unconstitutional and “gross outrage upon the rights of private property” and by abolitionists as a pivotal step for human rights, the Emancipation Proclamation commands an undeniable importance for the civil war and beyond.
Fugitive Slave Ads (1792-1863)
WANTED: Fugitive slaves! Slave owners placed ads in newspapers offering rewards for the capture and return of those who defiantly escaped enslavement. Ads contain names and descriptions of escapees, including physical and distinctive features, literacy level, specialized skills, and where an escapee might be headed and why. Discover rare details about the lives and experiences of those who resisted slavery. Read more on this topic in the Headlines and Heroes blog post.
John Brown and his “army” raided the Armory and Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in an attempt to create a slave uprising. Instead, they were defeated, many of Brown’s followers were killed, and Brown and six of his men were captured. Brown would be hanged for treason, becoming a martyr figure for the abolition movement.
Harriet Tubman (1869-1913)
Known as the “Moses of her people,” Harriet Tubman ran away from slavery but went back to the South at least 19 more times, risking her life to bring others to freedom along the Underground Railroad. In the Civil War, she worked as a Union spy and scout and was celebrated for her courage. The digital collections of the Library of Congress contain a wide variety of material associated with Harriet Tubman which you can find here.
Ida B. Wells (1892-1909)
“The facts have been so distorted that the people in the north and elsewhere do not realize the extent of the lynchings in south,” stated Ida B. Wells in June of 1895. Wells worked tirelessly to fight against lynching in the American South through newspapers, pamphlets, and speeches. A former school teacher, she is remembered for her work in both civil and women’s rights. Read more on this topic in the Headlines and Heroes blog post.
Jack Johnson vs. James J. Jeffries (1910)
Jack Johnson won the “Battle of the Century” against James Jeffries on July 4, 1910, in Reno, Nevada. The fight between Johnson and Jeffries sparked a nation-wide response, including both celebrations and riots. Johnson was the first African American Heavyweight Champion of the World and held the title until 1915.
James Reese Europe, the Jazz King (1909-1919)
“You Just Ought to Hear Jimmy Europe’s … Band Play a ‘Rag’ or a March” proclaimed the Evening World. Chicago has gone “music mad” reported the Dallas Express, with thousands following as the band marched through the town. Lieut. James Europe, bandleader and composer, fought in the 369th, the African American regiment nicknamed the “Hell Fighters.” He was the leader of its band, traveling through France giving performances for troops and civilians alike. Within four months of his return, he was dead, stabbed by one of his bandmates during their US tour. Read more on the Harlem Hell Fighters and Europe in the Headlines and Heroes blog post.
Plessy v. Ferguson (1892-1905)
The U.S. Supreme Court changed history on May 18, 1896. The Court’s “separate but equal” decision in Plessy v. Ferguson on that date upheld state-imposed Jim Crow laws and became the legal basis for racial segregation in the United States for the next fifty years. For more, see this Library of Congress web guide.
Pullman Porters (1894-1910)
The Pullman Company established its sleeper cars as a unique and luxurious way to travel, complete with the carefully trained African American Pullman Porters. Pullman Porters quickly became a staple of the Pullman Sleeping Car experience, often fighting to maintain a balance between good relations with the Pullman Company and protesting for better conditions and wages.
Ragtime, a uniquely American, syncopated musical phenomenon, has been a strong presence in musical composition, entertainment, and scholarship for over a century. For more, visit the Library’s digital Ragtime Collection.
Silent Protest Parade (1917-1922)
Nearly ten thousand African Americans marched in silence down New York City’s Fifth Avenue on July 28, 1917. There was no singing or chanting, just the muffled thump of drums. The silent protest followed brutal riots in East St. Louis, Illinois. Organized by the newly-formed NAACP, it would go down as the first African American protest of its kind and set the stage for future civil rights demonstrations.
Sissieretta Jones: African-American Soprano (1889-1911)
” I can never remember the time when I did not sing,” soprano Sissieretta Jones said in the July 4, 1896 issue of the San Francisco Call. Mme Jones and her touring group, “The Troubadours,” were feted by immense audiences around the world, often inviting the tribute of tears to those who heard her magnetic voice. Read more on this topic in the Headlines and Heroes blog post.