Tennessee State Library and Archives


Year State and National Events Slavery and Racial Issues African American Institutions and Accomplishments

The federal Civil Rights Act of 1875 is struck down – the  government may restrict states, but not individuals, from discrimination.

Samuel A. McElwee introduces House Bill No. 12, to amend the law establishing a State Normal School. 

Leon Howard introduces House Bill No. 34, to repeal Chapter 130 of the Acts of 1875

Leon Howard  introduces House Bill No. 129, To repeal sections 2437a and 2437b of the Code, in regard to illicit intercourse. 

Saml. A. McElwee and Jesse M. H. Graham are listed as recipients of Peabody Scholarships to attend Fisk University.

Governor William Brimage Bate (1826-1905) asks for an Assistant Superintendent of Education, to oversee the education of black students.
The TN House agrees to appropriate $3,300 per year for normal school scholarships for black students, making each scholarship worth $50.

Leon Howard  introduces House Bill No. 493, Providing for the appointment of an Assistant Superintendent of Public Schools. 

Samuel A. McElwee
introduces House Bill No. 526, “to amend section 4000 of the Code, in regard to selecting jurors.” 

Leon Howard 
introduces House Bill No.556, To repeal part of the Act relating to inn-keepers, common carriers, etc. 

John W. Boyd introduces House Bill No. 663, To prevent discrimination by rail companies against passenger paying first-class fare.

Leon Howard offers an amendment repealing only the provision of the Act of 1875 that pertains to railroads; it is defeated by a vote of 64-27.

W. A. Milliken’s amendment to House Bill No. 663, requiring rail companies to provide separate cars for blacks, passes by a vote of 56-19.

The Supreme Court declares the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional: the 14th Amendment forbids states, not individuals, from discriminating. 

Students meeting all the Peabody scholarship requirements can receive up to $200 per year for board and other college expenses. 

Leon Howard  is elected to represent Shelby County in the 43rd General Assembly. He helps defeat two blacks (one is Isaac Norris) running on the Democratic ticket.

Samuel Allen McElwee (1858-1914), a Republican, is elected to the 43rd (also 44th  and 45th ) General Assembly, representing Haywood County from 1883-1889. 

David Foote Rivers (1859-1941) is elected, representing Fayette County as a Republican in the 43rd General Assembly.
John W. Boyd serves a second term representing Tipton County.  He is appointed to the committee on Federal Relations.

David F. Rivers  is the recipient of a Peabody Scholarship to attend Roger Williams University. 

Death of Sojourner Truth (Isabella Baumfree, born 1797), ardent abolitionist and powerful public speaker. 


Ida B. Wells files a lawsuit against a large railroad company for segregation on its cars.  Thomas F. Cassels is her first lawyer. 

Grover Cleveland, a Democrat from New York, is elected president.

  Black leaders from Tennessee meet in Nashville, warning the Republican
party that failure to support black causes will erode black commitment.

Samuel A. McElwee is chosen as a delegate to the Chicago Presidential Convention, which nominates James G. Blaine.

John Lynch is the first black to be elected chairman of the Republican National Convention. 

William A. Fields introduces House Bill No. 119, making school attendance compulsory.

William C. Hodge introduces House Bill No. 139, to amend the road law of 1883.
William C. Hodge introduces House Bill No. 140, to amend the road law. 

William C. Hodge introduces House Bill No. 141 , to repeal Chapter 130 of the Acts of 1875.

William A. Fields introduces House Bill No. 151, requiring employers to pay employees the amount promised in their advertisements. 

Greene E. Evans introduces House Bill No. 156, to amend the road law. 

Greene E. Evans presents House Bill No. 447, to repeal Chapter 130 of  the Acts of 1875

Samuel A. McElwee introduces House Bill No. 495, To protect married women and their children.” 

Greene E. Evans presents House Bill No. 514 , providing for the appointment of an Asst. State Superintendent of Public Instruction. 

House Bill No. 141, on third reading, is defeated by a vote of 49-20.

House Bill No. 151 is rejected.

House Bill No. 119 is tabled.

Grover Cleveland becomes the nation’s 21st President (1885-1889).

The General Assembly meets in extraordinary session.  They will meet through June 12.

Greene E. Evans introduces House Bill No. 29, To provide for the appointment of an Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

William A. Fields introduces House Bill No. 34, To empower Managers of Teachers’ Institutes to examine and issue certificates. 

William C. Hodge introduces House Bill No. 63, To provide for the protection of the ballot box. 

Governor William Brimage Bate again urges legislation authorizing an Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction, responsible for the education of African American students.

The State School Board asks the General Assembly to repeal the act reducing the salary of the State Superintendent. 

Greene E. Evans (1848-1914) is elected Republican representative from Shelby County to the 44th General Assembly.  

William A. Fields (ca. 1852-?) is elected to represent Shelby County in the 44th General Assembly.  Fields is a farmer and school teacher.

William C. Hodge (ca. 1846-?) is the first black elected from Hamilton County, serving as a Republican in the 44th General Assembly.

Samuel A. McElwee, in his second term representing Haywood County, receives the Republican nomination for Speaker of the House. 

David F. Rivers is listed in the Biographical Directory of the Tennessee General Assembly, as a member of the 1885 General Assembly, but his name does not appear in the House Journal for that year.

African American priest Samuel David Ferguson is ordained a bishop of the Episcopal church; he will serve until his death in 1916. 


The American Federation of Labor is organized, signaling the rise of the labor movement.  Blacks are excluded from all major unions of the period. The Sunday School Union, publishing the first Sunday school literature by African Americans, moves to 206 Public Square in Nashville. 

This year will see the establishment of the  first black-owned drug store in Nashville. 

The State Board of Education submits payment for 61 African American
students who have received State Normal (Peabody) Scholarships.   

Samuel A. McElwee receives a law degree from Central Tennessee College in Nashville. 

Nashville’s first public black high school opens: Meigs Public School offers classes for 9th and 10th graders; 11th grade will be added in 1887-88.

Monroe W. Gooden (1848-1915), the only Democrat among the black legislators, represents Fayette county in the 45th Gen. Assembly.
In the wake of a brutal lynching in West Tennessee, Samuel A. McElwee introduces House Bill No. 5, to prevent mob violence. 

Styles L. Hutchins introduces House Bill No. 136 , to repeal a section of the Chattanooga charter requiring poll taxes for voting in city elections.
Styles L. Hutchins introduces House Bill No. 447 to regulate convict labor, a system that has replaced slave labor in the South.

House Bill No. 5, to prevent mob violence, having been delayed for several days, is at last made the special order for the afternoon session.

House Bill No. 136, to amend the charter of Chattanooga, passes on third reading, suggesting that whites do not yet realize the power of the poll tax to restrict black votes.

Samuel A. McElwee makes a powerful speech  in support of the bill, demanding reform. The Judiciary Committee offers a substitute bill.  By a 41-36 vote, both bills are tabled.  

Morristown Seminary and Normal Institute, Morristown, TN, is named
as eligible for Peabody Scholarship students “of African descent.” 

Central Tennessee, Fisk, and Roger Williams urge the General Assembly
“to restore the former appropriations for colored scholarships to $3300.” 
Styles Linton Hutchins, a Republican, begins his legislative term, representing Hamilton County in the 45th Gen. Assembly from 1887-89. 

Samuel A. McElwee, a Republican, is elected to a third term representing Haywood County.  Gooden, Hutchins, and McElwee are the last African Americans elected to serve in the TN General Assembly until Memphis voters elect A. W. Willis in 1964, more than 75 years later. 

Booker T. Washington invites Samuel A. McElwee to be commencement speaker at the 1887 graduation exercises of Tuskegee Institute.   

Eatonville, Florida, becomes the first African American township to be  incorporated into the United States. 

  Samuel A. McElwee is one of two Tennessee delegates to the Republican Convention in Chicago.  Thomas F. Cassels serves as a Republican Presidential elector. 

Two large African-American-owned banks open: the Savings Bank of the Grand Fountain United Order of the Reformers and Capital Savings Bank.

State School Board Secretary Frank Goodman protests the General Assembly’s reduced appropriation for “colored normal scholarships” from $3,300 to $1,500 per year, making each scholarship worth only $22.70.  

Benjamin Harrison becomes the nation’s 22nd President (1889-1893).

TN Sen. Rives Berry offers an amendment to the Appropriations Bill, giving the “Colored Normal Department” $3,300 instead of $2,500 a year.

The amended Appropriations Bill  passes both the Senate and the House
before the end of the 1889 session.


According to the 1890 census, African Americans make up 11.9% of the U.S. population  (7,488,676 of 62,947,714).

The Black Northern Migration, between 1870 and 1930, drops the black population of Tennessee from 25.6% to 18.3%. 

The American Baptist Publication Society refuses to publish the writings of African American ministers because Southern readers object. 

“Pitchfork Ben” Tillman is elected governor of South Carolina and calls
his victory “a triumph of ... white supremacy.”    

The Mississippi Plan becomes law on this date.  It uses literacy and
“understanding” tests to disenfranchise minority voters. 

The TN Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company (TCI) uses convicts as strikebreakers when coal miners strike.  Violent uprisings continue until 1895.


Vigilante groups produce havoc throughout Tennessee.  A Sevier County group known as the White Caps begins a 4-year reign of terror.

Approximately 235 African Americans will lose their lives to lynchings this year; between 1890 and 1950 204 black Tennesseans will be lynched.

After Ida B. Wells speaks out against a recent lynching, a white mob burns her newspaper office.  She is forced to move out of the state for her safety.

Frederick Douglass speaks at the First Colored Baptist Church in response to recent lynchings in Nashville and Goodlettsville.
Dr. Miles V. Lynk, the first African American physician in Madison Co.,  publishes the first national medical journal for black physicians.

Biddle University (NC) defeats Livingstone College (NC) 5-0 in the first
football game between teams from black colleges. 

Grover Cleveland is sworn in to his second term as President, the first covering the years 1885-1889, and the second running from 1893-1897.

After 50 years of convict leasing, the General Assembly finally votes to construct a new state penitentiary and abolish convict leasing by 1896.


African American workers are hired by the Pullman Company as strike breakers after a costly strike by employees. 


Death of Frederick Douglass.

South Carolina’s Constitutional Convention adopts a new constitution containing an “understanding” clause designed to eliminate black voters.

  Booker T. Washington delivers the “Atlanta Compromise” address, saying the “Negro problem” will be resolved if the South abides by a policy of gradualism & accommodation.

The National Baptist Convention of the US is created by uniting several smaller groups.  It is the nation’s largest black religious denomination. 

The U.S. Supreme Court, in Plessy v. Ferguson, upholds Louisiana statute requiring “separate but equal” accommodations on railroads, declaring that segregation is not necessarily discrimination. 

William McKinley, an Ohio Republican, is elected President.

  Samuel L. McElwee and James Napier are named to the original committee of the Negro Department of the Tennessee Centennial. 

Richard H. Boyd establishes the National Baptist Publishing Board, reportedly the oldest extant black-owned publishing company. 

The National Association of Colored Women is established, with Mary
Church Terrell as its first president. 

William McKinley is inaugurated as President (1897-1901).

The Tennessee Centennial Exposition opens in Nashville.  It is a successful effort to stimulate the economy out of a long depression.

During 1897 Tennessee Coal (TCI) pays Louisiana $18.50 a month for a first-class state convict.

Jesse M. H. Graham is elected as a Republican representing Montgomery County in the 50th  General Assembly. The Committee on Elections declares him ineligible to hold the seat.

The Spanish-American War begins.  Black volunteers make up sixteen
regiments.  Five African Americans win Congressional Medals of Honor. 

In Williams v. Mississippi, the US Supreme Court rules in favor of the Mississippi Constitution, which requires voters to pass a literacy test.

  The first class graduates from Pearl High School, Nashville’s African American high school.
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