From the nation’s first public university, built by enslaved people, to the demonstrators this summer who finally rid the Capitol grounds of its monuments to white supremacy, the history of the Triangle and its major towns and cities—Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh—is inextricably intertwined with the history of its Black residents.

Black history is American history, and Black History Week, established as a precursor to Black History Month by the author and historian Carter G. Woodson, was an early affirmation, and now an ongoing reminder, that Black Lives Matter.

In honor of this February tradition, the INDY created a timeline to recognize and celebrate the work and achievements of Black activists, educators, and leaders in the realms of business, government, and faith.

It’s but a small sample of the contributions of so many over the centuries.

1793: Enslaved Black people begin constructing the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s oldest public university

1808John Chavis, a free-born Black man, opens a school in Raleigh. Chavis, who fought in the Revolutionary War, teaches white children by day and Black pupils at night

January 31, 1865: The Thirteenth Amendment abolishes slavery

1865: Shaw University, now the oldest Black college in the southeast, is founded

1865: James Henry Harris, born a slave, returns to Raleigh after time abroad in Africa and serves as a city alderman. He is also one of the developers of Oberlin Village, the only settlement in North Carolina founded by free-born Antebellum Blacks

1867: Saint Augustine’s University is founded by the Episcopal church to train Black teachers 

1869: North Carolina ratifies the 15th Amendment, which gives Black men the right to vote

November 3, 1875: James E. Shepard, founder and first president of what will become North Carolina Central University, is born in Oberlin Village

1868: The first African-American state legislators—three senators and 17 representatives—are elected to the General Assembly

February 3, 1870: Congress passes the Fifteenth Amendment

1880: John Merrick, pioneer business leader, arrives in Durham as a barber; he invests in real estate and builds his own home and rental properties

1886Wilson Caldwell—a university worker born into slavery, justice of the peace, and founder of a school for Black children—is elected to the Chapel Hill Board of Commissioners

1887: The Whitted School is built; James A. Whitted serves as superintendent of public grade schools for Black children, including the Ledger school in Hayti and the Hack Road school

1891St. Joseph’s AME Baptist Church is built. The church was founded by Edian Markham. In addition to being churches, St. Joseph’s and White Rock are bastions of activism and business catalysts, where members create consensus about the importance of education 

1895: Dr. Aaron M. Moore helps organize a community pharmacy and drug store, The Durham Drug Company, to train Black druggists

January 1895: Folk musician Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten is born in what will eventually be Carrboro, on Lloyd Street near the train tracks

1896: Sarah Hunter, wife of the head of St Augustine’s University, establishes the St. Agnes Hospital on the university’s campus. The hospital serves as an accredited training school for nurses; it will be the only hospital and training school for African Americans between Atlanta and Washington, D.C. for nearly half a century

1896: The Supreme Court upholds segregation in its “separate but equal” doctrine

April 18, 1904: Pioneering comedian Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham is born

February 25, 1907: Physician and businessman Manassa Thomas Pope and partner M.A. Johnson found the Mechanics and Farmers Bank to provide banking services to the Black community

July 5, 1910: Dr. James E. Shepard, a businessman, opens the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua for the Colored Race; after changing names and ownership, the school is eventually recognized as N.C. Central University by the state legislature in 1969. It is the first state-supported university for Black people in the nation

1913: The second Black library in North Carolina, the Durham Colored Library, is founded in the Baraca, a borrowed room in the White Rock Baptist Church

1919: Dr. Manassa T. Pope mounts a bid for a seat on the Raleigh City Council 

1921: Black women open the Efland Home for Wayward Girls, serving Black girls who tended to be incarcerated in adult jails, unlike white children and Black boys

1921: Builder and businessman Calvin Lightner constructs the Lightner Arcade and Hotel on East Hargett Street, downtown Raleigh’s “Black Main Street.” It becomes a social hub for Black Americans during Jim Crow 

1926: Louis E. Austin, fiery editor and publisher, establishes The Carolina Times, a Black weekly newspaper with the slogan “The Truth Unbridled.” The Times becomes one of the most influential newspapers in the state 

1933: Black American attorneys Conrad O. Pearson and Cecil McCoy file an action on behalf of Thomas R. Hocutt against the University of North Carolina, ushering in the desegregation of state-funded universities

1935: The city’s best-known Bluesman—Fulton Allen, also known as Blind Boy Fuller—records with the Reverend Gary Davis in New York, popularizing the “Piedmont Blues”

Pauli Murray

1938Pauli Murray is rejected from UNC’s graduate program because she is Black. She later becomes an Episcopal priest and delivers her first Eucharist (communion) at Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, the same church where her grandmother was baptized as an enslaved person

October 13, 1938Shirley Caesar, First Lady of Gospel, is born

1940: P.R. Jervay Sr. starts The Carolinian newspaper 

April 22, 1947: Durham’s John Hope Franklin publishes the landmark volume, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans. He will become a leading American historian

1948: American fashion icon Andre Leon Talley is born 

1953: Rencher N. Harris becomes the first Black man elected to the Durham City Council; in 1958, he is the first Black man appointed to the city’s school board

1954: The Supreme Court releases its landmark ruling desegregating schools in Brown v. Board of Education

August 1956: Joseph and Elwyna Holt apply to enroll their son, Joe, Jr., in the all-white Josephus Daniels Junior High School in Raleigh, launching a three-and-a-half-year fight to integrate Raleigh city schools 

June 23, 1957: Seven Black demonstrators are arrested for conducting a peaceful sit-in at the Royal Ice Cream Company in downtown Durham in one of the country’s first civil rights sit-ins

February 8, 1960: Four Black students stage a sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro

February 16, 1960: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addresses the congregation of the White Rock Baptist Church, delivering his history-making “fill up the jails” civil rights speech

February 28, 1960: Nine Lincoln High School students stage a sit-in at Colonial Drug Store on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. The next day, around 100 young people picket outside in solidarity

September 8, 1960: Bill Campbell is the first Black student to attend an all-white Raleigh city school 

1960: Ella Baker, a Shaw University valedictorian and the first national director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, forms The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee on the Shaw University campus. SNCC’s young leaders will incorporate Baker’s philosophies of “militant anti-racism,” grassroots organizing, and subverting class and gender hierarchies 

Ella Baker

1961: Businessman John Winters becomes the first African American elected to Raleigh’s city council

1961: The Duke University Board of Trustees votes to admit  students to its graduate and professional schools regardless of race

April 30, 1963: N.C. State and Shaw University students protest segregation at Raleigh’s State Theatre, on Salisbury Street

May 18, 1963: Black demonstrators are arrested at a peaceful sit-in at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant in Durham

1966: Duke University hires its first Black faculty member, Samuel DuBois Cook

1966: Attorney Floyd B. McKissick is named National Director of the Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.)

July 1966: Hortense McClinton joins the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work, becoming the university’s first Black faculty member. Three years later, Blyden Jackson will become UNC’s first Black professor

1967: Basketball great Charles “Charlie” Scott becomes the first African American student athlete to receive a scholarship at UNC-Chapel Hill. 

February 13, 1969: Duke students, many from the Afro-American society, occupy the Allen Building to protest the university’s treatment of Black students

February 23, 1969: UNC-Chapel Hill cafeteria workers go on strike with the support of the Black Student Movement

May 6, 1969: Howard Lee is elected mayor of Chapel Hill, the first Black man to lead any predominantly white Southern town

1971: Civil rights activist Ann Atwater serves as co-chair of a charrette, along with local KKK leader C.P. Ellis, that eventually leads to the desegregation of Durham’s public schools

1973: Josephine Dobbs Clement becomes the first Black woman to serve on the Durham City Board of Education

1973: Clarence Lightner is elected mayor of Raleigh, the first African American elected mayor of a majority-white, major Southern city in the United States 

1974: Raleigh’s John Winters and Fred Alexander of Mecklenburg County become the first Black Americans elected to the North Carolina state Senate since Reconstruction

1975: Muhammad Mosque No. 34 is renamed the Durham Muhammad Masjid following the death of national leader Elijah Muhammad; now named Ar-Razzaq Islamic Center, it is Durham’s oldest masjid

1975: The Hayti Heritage Center, formerly the home of St. Joseph’s AME church, opens

Phil Freelon

1975: Architect Phil Freelon graduates from N.C. State’s School of Design 

1978: John H. Baker is elected Sheriff of Wake County, North Carolina’s first African American sheriff since Reconstruction

November 28, 1981: Michael Jordan plays his first game for the Tar Heels, scoring 12 points

1989: Chester Jenkins is elected Durham’s first Black mayor; eight of the 13 city council members are Black

1991Dan Blue becomes the first African American to serve as speaker of the house in the General Assembly

1995: Dr. Sharon Elliott-Bynum and her sister, Pat Amaechi, co-found Healing with CAARE, Inc., a non-profit community-based organization to support people living with HIV/AIDS

2008: The Marian Cheek Jackson Center opens in Northside, honoring Marian Lovette Cheek Jackson, the historian of St. Joseph C.M.E. since the 1950s

August 14, 2017: Protesters in Durham use a rope to topple a Confederate statue 

August 20, 2018Silent Sam is toppled by protesters

2019: Then-presidential candidate Kamala Harris delivers a keynote speech at the 84th-anniversary banquet of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People 

Summer 2020: Following weeks of protests after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police, anti-racist activists and Black Lives Matter supporters in Raleigh topple two Confederate statues from a monument at the State Capitol

2021: N.C. Central University graduate, McArthur Genius Grant recipient, and civil rights titan Reverend William Barber delivers the homily at the inaugural prayer for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Harris 

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