Rare Images of Black History: A Timeline

An exclusive peek at photos from Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s compendium, Life Upon These Shores.

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    Library of Congress

    Life Upon These Shores

    How do you tell the entire story of the black experience in America? Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008, by The Root‘s editor-in-chief, Henry Louis Gates Jr., dares to capture its scope and breadth, from the era of 16th-century conquistadors to ascendance of 21st-century politicians. This exclusive slideshow includes a fraction of the more than 700 photos of events, documents, posters, maps, art and people who grace the book’s pages. Some are startling; all are fascinating.

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    King of Congo

    Depiction of the King of Congo in West Africa receiving Portuguese emissaries, ca. 1491.

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    Trial Proceedings

    Trial proceedings of blacks and whites who were accused in 1741 of a conspiracy to burn down New York City.

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    Anthony Burns

    Burns escaped slavery in 1854. After being captured, his arrest spawned a national debate over the legitimacy of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act.

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    The North Star

    The North Star, an independent newspaper created by abolitionist Frederick Douglass, was published weekly from 1847 to 1849.

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    Black Gold Star

    A black gold miner in Auburn Ravine, Calif., 1852. Many blacks moved west to the gold fields in search of wealth.

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    Fugitive Painting

    “Effects of the Fugitive-Slave-Law,” published by Hoff and Bloede, 1850. After the strengthening of the fugitive slave law in 1850, thousands of African Americans fled to Canada in fear of re-enslavement.

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    In Bondage

    Members of the enslaved Edmonson family, whose struggles to gain freedom gained widespread attention, shown with abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

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    Dred Scott

    Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper ran images of Dred Scott, his wife Harriet and their two daughters on the front page on June 27, 1857. The Dred Scott v. Sanford Supreme Court decision that blacks had no constitutional rights ignited an intense debate over the future of slavery and helped spur the country toward the Civil War.

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    54th Regiment Recruitment

    “54th Regiment!” recruitment poster, 1863. Although African Americans were offering to help preserve the Union, many had been turned away. The 54th Regiment enabled them to enlist in the war and support their families.

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    Nicodemus, Kan.

    Nicodemus, Kan., shown here in 1885, was a settlement where blacks thought they would be able to develop economic independence.

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    Soldiers in Cuba

    African-American men, shown in an 1899 photo, put their life on the line in the war for Cuban independence.

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    Blacks were often lampooned and demonized in “Sambo” caricatures, such as this 1908 cartoon, “Black Men Lynched. The Nigger Peril.”

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    Drinking Water

    A young African-American man drinks from a “colored” water cooler in 1939. The image captures the essence of the long-term impact of the Plessy v. Ferguson decision upholding “separate but equal” accommodations.

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    This by the Elliot Paint & Varnish Company of Chicago, ca. 1935, illustrates prevailing negative attitudes toward black identity and appearance.

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    Booker T. Washington

    Washington, the first leader of the Tuskegee Institute, was one of the most influential African Americans of his era. He encouraged the black community to focus on avocations that would bring economic stability, rather than full civil rights.

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    Niagara Delegates

    This 1907 photo shows influential members of scholar W.E.B Du Bois’ Niagara movement, which denounced segregation, disenfranchisement and the accommodationist policies of some in the black elite.

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    Madam C.J. Walker

    Walker, shown here in 1911, became one of the wealthiest African Americans of her generation through the growth of her hair-care product business.

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    Matthew Henson

    Polar explorer Henson reached the North Pole in 1909.

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    African-American soldiers, ca. 1917, enlisted in the military to show their loyalty and full embrace of American ideals.

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    Pan-African Congress

    Established in February 1919, the Pan-African Congress discussed how to ensure the rights of colonized Africans around the world. This photo by Presto shows a 1921 meeting in Brussels.

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    Tulsa Riot

    The Tulsa riot was one of the most deadly race riots in the nation’s history. This 1921 photo shows black men being seized.

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    Black Star

    “Back to Africa” advocate Marcus Garvey established the Black Star Line, a steamship company that was created to be the commercial link between black people in Africa, the Caribbean and the United States. Shown is a 1920 stock certificate in the business.

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    Jacob Lawrence’s Migration of the Negro, Panel 1 (1940-1941), was inspired by the Great Migration, in which as many as 1 million African-American Southerners moved to cities in the North, West and Midwest.

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    Louis Armstrong

    Jazz trumpeter Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong was one of the most innovative and influential music artists of his generation.

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    Paul Robeson

    Robeson was the epitome of a Renaissance Man, achieving great success in music, acting and sports. Robeson made major contributions to the civil rights movement, and faced years of persecution by the U.S. government for his political beliefs.

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    Joe Louis

    Heavyweight boxer Louis knocked out Max Schmeling in 1938, an act loaded with great symbolism for African Americans of that era in the fight against white supremacy.

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    Mary McLeod Bethune

    Bethune, founder of the school that became Bethune-Cookman University, was an influential advocate for gender and racial equality during the presidential administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Here, she is shown with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

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    Omaha Beach

    Racial barriers in the military began to crumble prior to and during World War II, though discrimination persisted. Here, a black platoon is shown just off Omaha Beach in 1944.

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    During the summer of 1943, racial conflict intensified, resulting in bloody Detroit riots. Here, white rioters are shown attacking a car owned by African Americans.

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    The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which was founded in 1942, used nonviolent resistance to advance the cause of black civil rights. Shown is CORE co-founder James Farmer, in 1964.

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    Jackie Robinson

    Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier in major league baseball was a sign of social change for blacks in America. He is shown at Ebbets Field in 1947.

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    African-American photographer Gordon Parks’ photos captured generations of African-American life with his lens, including these women steel workers in 1943.

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    Althea Gibson

    Gibson broke barriers as the first African American to win a tennis Grand Slam title, in 1956.

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    Rosa Parks

    With her refusal to give up her bus seat to a white person in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955, activist Parks sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped draw global attention to the civil rights movement.

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    In 1957, 97 preachers convened to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), naming Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as their chief. The SCLC planned nonviolent, direct-action protests for the civil rights of African Americans. Here, Dr. King is shown marching with his wife Coretta, Ralph Abernathy and members of the SCLC in 1966.

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    MLK Arrest

    Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 arrest after an antisegregation march in Birmingham, Ala., led to his penning one of the great documents of the civil rights era: “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”

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    Civil Rights Act of 1964

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination in public places, and threatened to withdraw federal funding from any establishment that discriminated against African Americans. Here, Martin Luther King Jr. is shown shaking hands with President Lyndon B. Johnson as he signs it into law.

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    Malcolm X

    African-American activists were constantly under attack. On Jan. 14, 1965, activist Malcolm X’s Elmhurst, N.Y., house was firebombed. He is shown here getting out of his car in front of the rubble. Malcolm X was later assassinated, as was Martin Luther King Jr.

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    Library of Congress

    Marching With Dr. King

    On April 17, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. protested the Vietnam War arm in arm with members of the Negro American Labor Council.


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    Muhammad Ali

    Born Cassius Clay, heavyweight champion boxer Ali shaped the role of the black athlete in American politics by his name-changing affiliation with the Nation of Islam, and his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War.

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    Black Power

    The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense epitomized the radicalization of black empowerment efforts, espousing black nationalism and pride, while eschewing nonviolence. Shown are party founders Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton.

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    Olympic Salute

    During the 1968 Olympics, American runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos shocked the world by raising their fists in a black power salute as the national anthem played during their medal ceremony.

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    Congressional Black Caucus

    By 1971, when the Congressional Black Caucus was founded, blacks had begun to enter the political mainstream. Shown are founding members of the caucus, including Shirley Chisholm (center), who ran for president in 1972.

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    Soul Train

    The dance show Soul Train has forever left its mark on black popular culture and television history.

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    Reaction to Busing

    Attempts to desegregate schools by busing children outside of their own neighborhoods sparked a backlash in Boston and other cities, and were a factor in white flight from inner cities. In this photo, “The Soiling of Old Glory,” by Stanley Forman, a busing opponent attempts to spear a black innocent bystander with the American flag.

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    The Bronx of the 1970s was the birthplace of hip-hop, giving voice to previously voiceless inner-city youth and igniting a phenomenon that dominates global popular music to this day. Shown are pioneering heavyweights Grandmaster Flash, DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Chuck D, in 1993.

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    A Holiday for MLK

    In honor of Dr. King’s achievements, President Ronald Reagan signs the legislation in 1983 creating the federal holiday for the slain civil rights leader, as King’s widow Coretta looks on.

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    Clarence Thomas

    Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ contentious confirmation hearings in 1991 included testimony of sexual harassment by former subordinate Anita Hill. He was nonetheless confirmed and has been a consistently conservative voice in the high court.

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    Katrina's Aftermath

    This photo of the wreckage of a barbershop exemplifies the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a monster storm that hit New Orleans and its surroundings in 2005. Thousands died and many more were displaced during the aftermath, drowned by floods or doomed by a local and federal response that was widely criticized as inept and indifferent to the plight of poor and black people.

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    Williams Sisters

    Venus and Serena Williams have continued the legacy of African-American athletes by dominating women’s tennis since the late 1990s. Here they are shown at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, showing their gold medals for doubles play.

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    Condoleezza Rice

    In 2004, then-National Security Advisor Rice was named the most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. Here she is shown with President George W. Bush, who later named her as secretary of state, replacing Colin Powell.

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    First Black President

    The inauguration of President Barack Obama, America’s first black president, in 2009 in many ways validates centuries of struggle for African Americans. Yet, inequalities persist. What will the next chapter of our life upon these shores bring?