Tennessee State Library and Archives


Year State and National Events Slavery and Racial Issues African American Institutions and Accomplishments
1851 Harriet Beecher Stowe sells Uncle Tom’s Cabin to the National Era.. By 1857 it will sell half a million copies and destroy slavery’s legitimacy.    
1852     Approximate birth year of Shelby County Representative William A. Fields.

Birth date of Hamilton County Representative Styles L. Hutchins
1853 Franklin Pierce is inaugurated the nation’s 14th President (1853-1857).   William Wells Brown publishes Clotel, the first novel by an African American.  He will later write The Escape, the first black play.

Nelson G. Merry, a former slave, becomes the first Tennessee African American to be ordained and placed over a black congregation.
1854 The Kansas-Nebraska Act is passed by the U.S. Congress.  It annuls the Missouri Compromise and opens the Northern territory to slavery.

The first official Republican party meeting takes place in Jackson, Michigan. 
1855   Hume School, serving all grades, opens in Nashville, one of the first Southern cities to institute a public school system.  
1856   A race riot takes place in Nashville – white workers attack free and semi- independent blacks and force free black schools to close until 1862.    

African American education in Memphis is likewise shut down when local whites forbid black residents to learn to read.
1857 James Buchanan is inaugurated the nation’s 15th President (1857-1861).

The Supreme Court rules, in Dred Scott v Sanford, that an African American can not be a citizen of the United States and therefore has no right to sue or to claim other rights of citizenship.

The Lecompton Constitutional Convention meets in Kansas.  Pro-slave delegates push through a constitution protecting slavery.

Kansas voters ratify the Lecompton constitution, as free-staters stay away from the polls in protest of violence and fraud.
  Birth of Haywood County Representative Samuel A. McElwee, born into slavery in Madison County.
1858 Kansas voters, given an opportunity to reconsider the Lecompton Constitution, decisively reject it.    
1859   The Clothilde, the last ship to carry slaves to the United States, arrives in Mobile Bay, Alabama, with an illegal shipment of slaves.

John Brown and his followers (five of the 13 are African American) attack Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in an attempt to free and arm the local slaves.
A Memphis group establishes the first independent black congregation not
organized under the patronage and control of a white church.

Probable birth date of Jesse M. H. Graham in Clarksville, TN.

Birth of Fayette County Representative David F. Rivers, in Montgomery, Alabama. 
1860 Abraham Lincoln receives the Republican party’s nomination for President on the third ballot.

In a South Carolina convention called by John C. Calhoun to consider secession, delegates vote unanimously to secede from the Union.
Fewer than 20% of Tennessee families own (or can afford to own) slaves.  Slave owners in the state hold a median of 15.1 slaves.

In this year “only five Northern states, all with tiny black populations,[allow] black men to vote on the same terms as white.”
Slaves now constitute one-fourth of Tennessee’s population and about
15% of the national population.

Approximately 300,000 free blacks are living in Southern states, primarily in Virginia, Kentucky, and South Carolina.
Tennessee State Library and Archives
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