Historical Timeline

Pre-Colonial 1500 - 1670
Colonial 1663 - 1779
Antebellum 1789 - 1849
Civil War 1861 - 1865
Reconstruction 1865 - 1877
Jim Crow 1877 - 1954
Civil Rights 1958 - 1968
Modern Day 1969 - 2019

Pre-Colonial

1500-1670

The African presence in Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry is well documented, but much less is known of the locations from which this group came. At last, we are beginning to understand Africa as an entire continent, not a single country, which opens our eyes to the multiple ethnic and geographic groups that first populated the region beginning in the 16th century through the 19th century when official importation of enslaved workers ended.

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Colonial

1663-1779

Africans likely first arrived in the area that would become South Carolina in 1526, as part of a Spanish expedition from the Caribbean. For the next century, ongoing struggles between Spanish, French, and indigenous groups in the region involved enslaved Africans who accompanied, and sometimes escaped from, European rivals.

After the English settled Charleston in 1670, early colonists struggled to find a crop that would produce sufficient revenue for England, but by 1700 they discovered that rice was best suited for South Carolina’s semi-tropical climate. Early attempts to capitalize on this discovery failed due to the settlers’ ignorance of the intricacies involved in rice cultivation. Planters soon realized that using slave labor from the traditional rice-growing region of West Africa to perform this complex, arduous work, they could build economic stability.

Ultimately, the agricultural skill, ingenuity and technology of enslaved Africans made coastal South Carolina rice planters with the largest enslaved labor forces very rich. The floods fertilizing the inland and tidal rice fields also created deadly work conditions, from which tens of thousands of enslaved men, women and children perished in the stagnant and mosquito-and-disease-infested swamps, paying the ultimate price for an economic empire.

By 1708, the number of enslaved Africans and their descendants in South Carolina had grown to the point that they were the majority of the colony’s population. With some temporary fluctuations, this Black population majority would continue in the colony and later state of South Carolina until the Great Migration of the mid-twentieth century.

View More

Antebellum

1789-1849

As horrendous as the enslavement of African people was in terms of how men, women and children were treated inhumanely, its role in stabilizing European (French, Spanish and English) settlements was based on it being a system of great economic advantage for whichever country utilized it. Building empires on the backs of the less powerful has roots throughout human history, but distinct differences emerged in the ways “New World” slavery not only defined bondage by color of skin, but also as a permanent status to assure keeping a multi-generational unpaid labor force. According to South Carolina historian, Walter Edgar, “Money/profit was at the root of the system.”

View More

Civil War

1861-1865

The mounting tensions between slaveholding and non-slaveholding states date back to the nation’s very beginning. By the time of the Civil War, African descended people looked to multiple strategies and alliances to gain emancipation, caring less about which side would win than which side would offer greater advantages to their communities seeking relief from the current conditions.

Examples of Black heroism and valor are found on both sides of the confrontation. At the war’s conclusion, it was clear that expectations were raised not only for a new way of life, but hopefully a recognition that Black people had proved themselves worthy citizens and able to perform tasks beyond the narrow limits imposed by slavery.

View More

Reconstruction

1865-1877

Putting a divided nation back together after so brutal a conflict (an estiamted 750,000 war-related deaths) would be made more difficult because of uncertainty over the new status of emancipated Blacks. The success in painting African descendants as “inferior” and “sub-human” for so long meant a new set of warring parties (Black versus White) faced off in battles of citizenship, land ownership and other access to resources.

The Lowcountry offered some of the best examples of Black efforts to change the deeply seeded images and limits on people of color, although they were given that opportunity for only a few years. Many of the social, economic and political transformations of this era were designed to offer relief from rule by the landed gentry, to a more democratic society. However, attitudes towards race took those changes in directions looking backward to a South relying on second class placement for people of color. Successes during the era can only suggest what a 20th and 21st-century region, state and nation could look like, and offer a model for future political and economic adjustments embracing all citizens.

View More

Jim Crow

1877-1954

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, South Carolina enforced the second-class citizenship of African Americans through segregation, residential, political, and social isolation – a rigid legal system known as Jim Crow laws.

The laws forced African Americans to attend separate schools, use separate water fountains, and separate bathrooms. A “poll tax” prevented people from voting, while literacy tests and the grandfather clause further prevented African Americans from voting. In Charleston, Jim Crow laws prevented African Americans from sitting along the Battery. In essence, the laws controlled and confined every part of African American life – and enforced white supremacy.

Though the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 theoretically ended Jim Crow, in 1965 ninety-five percent of South Carolina African American children still attended segregated schools. On September 3, 1963, in Charleston, in a landmark case, a federal judge cleared the way for then 15-year-old Millicent Brown and 10 other African American students (her fellow plaintiffs) to be admitted to a previously exclusively white institution: Rivers High School. Widespread desegregation of South Carolina public schools didn’t occur until the early 1970s.

View More

Civil Rights

1958-1968

Many of the initiatives and strides for national recognition of African Americans as first-class citizens, entitled to the same rights and privileges as other residents, were reflected in Charleston’s own local history. Petitioning, boycotting, mass mobilization, lawsuits, voter registration drives and labor strikes are examples of the multiple approaches taken over decades to achieve equal rights.

One of Charleston's best known civil rights activists, educator Septima Poinsette Clark, fought for equal pay for Black teachers, and became the first Black woman elected to the Charleston School Board in 1975.

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Modern Day

1969-2019

Today’s Charleston retains its beauty – and its complexities: historic and current. Since 2010, it has consistently been voted the No. 1 travel destination in the U.S. and Canada based on its historic sites and landmarks, culture and arts, restaurants and food, people, friendliness, and shopping. The roots of much of Charleston’s unique built environment, food, music, arts, and culture are found in the African American community – and the generations of enslaved Africans on whose backs an economic empire was built.

From fine art, craft, social justice, gospel music, and jazz to architecture, ironwork, poetry, cuisine, education, law, and medicine, the African American community enriches and influences every part of Charleston culture. We invite you to explore Charleston’s historic sites, exhibits, artifacts, archives, places and people – to deepen your understanding and experience of this incomparable city.

View More

Historical Timeline

Pre-Colonial

1500-1670

The African presence in Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry is well documented, but much less is known of the locations from which this group came. At last, we are beginning to understand Africa as an entire continent, not a single country, which opens our eyes to the multiple ethnic and geographic groups that first populated the region beginning in the 16th century through the 19th century when official importation of enslaved workers ended.

Colonial

1663-1779

Africans likely first arrived in the area that would become South Carolina in 1526, as part of a Spanish expedition from the Caribbean. For the next century, ongoing struggles between Spanish, French, and indigenous groups in the region involved enslaved Africans who accompanied, and sometimes escaped from, European rivals.

After the English settled Charleston in 1670, early colonists struggled to find a crop that would produce sufficient revenue for England, but by 1700 they discovered that rice was best suited for South Carolina’s semi-tropical climate. Early attempts to capitalize on this discovery failed due to the settlers’ ignorance of the intricacies involved in rice cultivation. Planters soon realized that using slave labor from the traditional rice-growing region of West Africa to perform this complex, arduous work, they could build economic stability.

Ultimately, the agricultural skill, ingenuity and technology of enslaved Africans made coastal South Carolina rice planters with the largest enslaved labor forces very rich. The floods fertilizing the inland and tidal rice fields also created deadly work conditions, from which tens of thousands of enslaved men, women and children perished in the stagnant and mosquito-and-disease-infested swamps, paying the ultimate price for an economic empire.

By 1708, the number of enslaved Africans and their descendants in South Carolina had grown to the point that they were the majority of the colony’s population. With some temporary fluctuations, this Black population majority would continue in the colony and later state of South Carolina until the Great Migration of the mid-twentieth century.

Antebellum

1789-1849

As horrendous as the enslavement of African people was in terms of how men, women and children were treated inhumanely, its role in stabilizing European (French, Spanish and English) settlements was based on it being a system of great economic advantage for whichever country utilized it. Building empires on the backs of the less powerful has roots throughout human history, but distinct differences emerged in the ways “New World” slavery not only defined bondage by color of skin, but also as a permanent status to assure keeping a multi-generational unpaid labor force. According to South Carolina historian, Walter Edgar, “Money/profit was at the root of the system.”

Civil War

1861-1865

The mounting tensions between slaveholding and non-slaveholding states date back to the nation’s very beginning. By the time of the Civil War, African descended people looked to multiple strategies and alliances to gain emancipation, caring less about which side would win than which side would offer greater advantages to their communities seeking relief from the current conditions.

Examples of Black heroism and valor are found on both sides of the confrontation. At the war’s conclusion, it was clear that expectations were raised not only for a new way of life, but hopefully a recognition that Black people had proved themselves worthy citizens and able to perform tasks beyond the narrow limits imposed by slavery.

Reconstruction

1865-1877

Putting a divided nation back together after so brutal a conflict (an estiamted 750,000 war-related deaths) would be made more difficult because of uncertainty over the new status of emancipated Blacks. The success in painting African descendants as “inferior” and “sub-human” for so long meant a new set of warring parties (Black versus White) faced off in battles of citizenship, land ownership and other access to resources.

The Lowcountry offered some of the best examples of Black efforts to change the deeply seeded images and limits on people of color, although they were given that opportunity for only a few years. Many of the social, economic and political transformations of this era were designed to offer relief from rule by the landed gentry, to a more democratic society. However, attitudes towards race took those changes in directions looking backward to a South relying on second class placement for people of color. Successes during the era can only suggest what a 20th and 21st-century region, state and nation could look like, and offer a model for future political and economic adjustments embracing all citizens.

Jim Crow

1877-1954

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, South Carolina enforced the second-class citizenship of African Americans through segregation, residential, political, and social isolation – a rigid legal system known as Jim Crow laws.

The laws forced African Americans to attend separate schools, use separate water fountains, and separate bathrooms. A “poll tax” prevented people from voting, while literacy tests and the grandfather clause further prevented African Americans from voting. In Charleston, Jim Crow laws prevented African Americans from sitting along the Battery. In essence, the laws controlled and confined every part of African American life – and enforced white supremacy.

Though the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 theoretically ended Jim Crow, in 1965 ninety-five percent of South Carolina African American children still attended segregated schools. On September 3, 1963, in Charleston, in a landmark case, a federal judge cleared the way for then 15-year-old Millicent Brown and 10 other African American students (her fellow plaintiffs) to be admitted to a previously exclusively white institution: Rivers High School. Widespread desegregation of South Carolina public schools didn’t occur until the early 1970s.

Civil Rights

1958-1968

Many of the initiatives and strides for national recognition of African Americans as first-class citizens, entitled to the same rights and privileges as other residents, were reflected in Charleston’s own local history. Petitioning, boycotting, mass mobilization, lawsuits, voter registration drives and labor strikes are examples of the multiple approaches taken over decades to achieve equal rights.

One of Charleston's best known civil rights activists, educator Septima Poinsette Clark, fought for equal pay for Black teachers, and became the first Black woman elected to the Charleston School Board in 1975.

Modern Day

1969-2019

Today’s Charleston retains its beauty – and its complexities: historic and current. Since 2010, it has consistently been voted the No. 1 travel destination in the U.S. and Canada based on its historic sites and landmarks, culture and arts, restaurants and food, people, friendliness, and shopping. The roots of much of Charleston’s unique built environment, food, music, arts, and culture are found in the African American community – and the generations of enslaved Africans on whose backs an economic empire was built.

From fine art, craft, social justice, gospel music, and jazz to architecture, ironwork, poetry, cuisine, education, law, and medicine, the African American community enriches and influences every part of Charleston culture. We invite you to explore Charleston’s historic sites, exhibits, artifacts, archives, places and people – to deepen your understanding and experience of this incomparable city.



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