Following the events of the past couple months, from the grossly unjust murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and countless other Black victims of white supremacy and police violence, to the global racial reckoning causing a major paradigm shift to work to end systemic racism, TV Wasteland’s Pitch Deck division has pieced together a historical context guide in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, to understanding the roots of systemic racism in America. This toolkit is meant to be accessible for a wide range of students who want to scrape the surface of dismantling centuries-long systems of oppression and confronting anti-Blackness.
*We’d also like to take the time to acknowledge a few things regarding the nature of this article: this resource guide was written by non-Black womxn of color, who do not claim to understand the lived experiences of Black people, especially Black womxn, or speak for the Black community. Additionally, this guide is non-exhaustive, meaning we could only fit some of the many important events and movements in American history. Again, we aim to uplift the voices of Black artists, writers, and people.
- Important Terms to Know
- Historical Timeline
Important Terms to Know
- BIPOC: an acronym for Black, Indigenous, Person of Color, to emphasize the extreme injustice that Black and Indigenous folx face.
- Systemic Oppression/Racism: The racism built into every facet of our lives as people, especially as Americans, through personal, governmental, institutional and educational, legal, medical, and economical discrimination.
- Intersectionality: Coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, a leading scholar, professor, and advocate in critical race theory, intersectionality is a theoretical framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s identities are factors in their experience of unique modes of discrimination and privilege.
- Prison Industrial Complex: “The prison industrial complex (PIC) is a term we use to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems” (Critical Resistance).
- Chattel slavery: the historical institution of slavery or involuntary servitude, legal from the 1400s to 1865 in America. The institution of “owning” Black enslaved people for labor.
- Jim Crow: The era in American history of legalized racial segregation, operating under the false and harmful notion of “separate but equal”. Jim Crow was born out of Reconstruction (began in 1863) following the Civil War in which Black Codes began to pop up, that confined enslaved or newly freed Black people into strict guidelines in which they could live their life.
- #BlackLivesMatter: A global movement founded in 2013 by three Black womxn-- Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi– in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman. The Black Lives Matter mission is to “eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes, by combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy.”
- Silent Majority: a term coined in the 60s by Richard Nixon in light of the American War in Vietnam. It has since become a present-day euphemism for the wave of white conservatives.
1400s – 1775
Transatlantic Slave Trade to American Revolution Slave Trade | Starting in the 15th century, European merchants began to trade finished goods on the coast of West Africa for stolen men, women, and children. Most of these merchants came from Western Europe, and the British traders would exponentially grow the grossly inhumane industry during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. After the “middle passage”, a brutal voyage from Africa to the Caribbean, slaves would be auctioned off like objects to European plantation owners. As more and more Europeans travelled to the Americas to steal land and people, more African slaves were needed.
Start of slavery in America | In 1619, an English ship carrying around 20 slaves landed on Powhatan indigenous land, and what would become known as Jamestown, Virginia. African slaves built the English settlement, beginning a more than 250 year system of slavery that was and is the backbone of the American economy.
Seven years war | In a war between several European countries, France and Britain fought over the colonies in North America. Ultimately, the war resulted in Britain’s acquisition of “Canada” from the french and “Florida” from Spain — land that was never theirs to fight over in the first place.
1776 – 1861
American Revolution to Civil War
The Gradual Emancipation Act of 1780 was passed in Pennsylvania. The act appeased slave owners and granted very little to no real freedom to already enslaved individuals.
In 1794, the cotton gin was patented and led to the expansion of slavery in the south.
The Slave Trade act of 1794 limitted American participation in the slave trade by prohibiting transportation of slaves from the United States. This however did not place a ban on participation in the slave trade.
The Act of 1807 outlaws the import of slaves into the United States.
The Ohio legislation passed a series of laws in 1807 in order to discourage African american migration into the state. The laws were called The Black Laws and limited Black/African American rights in addition to requiring Black people to prove they were not slaves.
The American Antislavery Society was founded in 1833. The society spread the message of antislavery to the North and Congress.
The first publicly funded police force in the United States of America was established in Boston, 1838, which was a large shipping commercial center.
Before the Civil War, a system known as the underground railroad existed in Northern states of the United States in which escaped slaves in the South traveled in secret to safety in the North.
The compromise of 1850 consisted of five bills which were introduced in an attempt to resolve disputes over salvery in new territories of the United States. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was one of these bills which required citizens to turn in escaped slaves and denied enslaved people a trial by jury.
The Missouri Compromise was passed in 1820, establishing Missouri as a slave state. All other states part of the Louisiana purchase lands had banned slavery with the excpetion of Missouri as a result of this law.
Dred Scott was born into slavery. Throughout his life he moved between slave states and states in which slavery was abolished. When his last enslaver, John Emerson died, Dred Scott and his wife (also an enslaved person) became the property of his wife, Irene Emerson. Dred Scott and his wife filed lawsuits for freedom based on two Missouri statutes arguing their rightful freedom. In May, 1857 Scott won his freedom in the US Supreme Court.
Nat Turner’s revolt took place August 21, 1831. He led a revolt of also enslaved people which led to the massacre of around 200 Black people and new oppressive legislation.
1861 – 1954
Civil War to the end of Jim Crow Segregation
The Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863 ordered by Abraham Lincoln stating that all slaves in the confederate states were granted freedom.
Black men in the United States were given the right to vote when the 15th amendment was passed in 1869. Despite this, voter suppression still made voting difficult for Black Americans (not sure if I should mention other poc).
The KKK is a white supremisist group that focuses on maintaining a racial hierarchy. At the time, they worked towards oppression of the Black population through violence.
Jim Crow laws forced racial segregation into schools, businesses, and all other public intitutions.
The Plessy v. Ferguson case declared segregation constitutional using the terms “equal but separate”.
In 1909, NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) worked towards abolishing segregation.
The Harlem Renaissance was a large movement showcasing Black artists as well as their culture. This was a time where people separated from Victorian, white, and racist ways of approaching art.
Hattie McDaniel became the first black Oscar winner in 1940 for her role in “Gone With the Wind”.
The Tulsa Race Massacre occurred in May 1921, in which white rioters looted, destroyed, and burned much of the Greenwood District in Tulsa Oklahoma, known then and now as “Black Wall Street”. Around 300 Black men, women, and children were killed, thousands were injured, but no prosecutions were made.
1954 – 1970
Civil Rights Movement/War in Vietnam
In 1954, the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional, citing that “separate but equal”, the foundation of racial segregation in America, was false.
In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched after being wrongly accused of offending a white woman in a grocery store. His mother, Mamie Till, decided to hold an open casket funeral that exposed Emmet’s brutally damaged body. Emmet’s death was one of the inciting incidents of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a political and social protest campaign against the policy of racial segregation on the public transit system of Montgomery, Alabama. The most well-known inspiration for the 381-day boycott was Rosa Parks, when she famously refused to give up her seat for a white passenger.
In 1966, revolutionaries Huey Newton and Bobby Seale co-founded the Black Panther Party in Oakland, CA in order to fight against police brutality and systemic racism, and provide the Black community with its own self-determination.
Multiculturalism within CRM: Within the Civil Rights Movement, other Ethnicities of Color, fought alongside the Black community (namely American Indian Movement (AIM), Yellow Peril, and the Puerto Rican community). In 1965, the Immigration and National Origins Act was passed, outlawing immigration discrimination based on ethnicity. This especially helped Asians, Latinxs, and Africans to migrate to the US.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a landmark civil rights and labor law in the United States that outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It prohibits unequal application of voter registration requirements, and racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations. This established Title 7 employment protections.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote as guaranteed under the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The American War in Vietnam (1955 to 1975) was a controversial war for many reasons, but especially because it disproportionately drafted the poor and young Black and Latino men to serve in the army (draft deferments were given to those in college, most of whom were white and affluent). Many soldiers and Black americans became disillusioned with the war, fighting for a country that continued to brutalize their own communities.
LA Rebellion: Upon the backdrop of the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements, a group of Black UCLA Film and Television students courageously created film works that told Black stories, paving the way for many Black filmmakers.
Black Arts Movement (BAM), founded by poet and playwright Amiri Baraka, was a Black-led arts movement in the 1960s and 70s that celebrated Black pride. It may also be referred to as the Second Harlem Renaissance.
Responding to violent raids by police in gay bars in 1969, a series of uprisings against the oppression of LGBTQ+ people in New York broke out at the Stonewall Inn. The Stonewall Riots, organized by transgender womxn of color, most notably Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, is regarded as the catalyst for the gay rights movement in the US.
Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman in congress (1968). She was additionally the the first African American as well as the first woman to seek presidential nomination from either the rublican or democratic political parties.
On June 28, 1978 the US Supreme Court ruled affirmative action as constitutional but invalidated the use of racial quotas. Allan Bakke, a white male had applied twice for the medical school of the University of California Davis however was not admitted each time. The school had reserved 16% of its admission for minority students as a part of their affirmative action program.
A war on drugs was declared in 1971 making drug related crime “the public’s number 1 enemy”. Communities of color, black men specifically, have become victims of mass incarceration from the war on drugs.
The Miami Riot erupted in Florida after police killed Arthur McDuffie, an unarmed black man.
Jesse Jackson ran for the Democratic Presidential candidate in 1988.
Representation in the media and film industry increases as Oprah Winfrey talk show started in 1986.
“From 1970 to 1994, the rate of imprisonment exploded 400 percent, to 387 per 100,000 people. From 1994 to 2009, imprisonment continued to rise, doubling.” -Brennan Center for Justice
The first national Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated in 1986.
The hip hop and rap industry exploded in black communities creating a safe space for creatives in Black communities to express themselves and make a career out of it.
“She’s Gotta Have it” and “Do the Right Thing” were two popular movies of this time normalizing Black actors and directors into the industry.
The ’90s were a continuation of the Reagan/Bush era “law and order”/”tough on crime” policy, which meant that no candidate could appear soft on crime if they wanted a chance to win. Thus, Democratic ideology moved heavily centrist, to which politicians like Bill Clinton measure very closely Republican or “right-wing”.
California’s Three-strikes law went into effect in March of 1994, giving felony offenders a number of “strikes”, or else they would be convicted to prison for life. This dramatically increased the number of people with life-sentences and perpetuated the Prison Industrial Complex.
Mandatory minimums: A mandatory minimum is a sentence, created by Congress or a state legislature, which the court must give to a person convicted of a crime, no matter what the unique circumstances of the offender or the offense are. Typically, mandatory minimums apply to gun and drug crimes and are based on only the type and weight of the drug involved or the possession or presence of a gun.
Truth-in-sentencing laws mandated that the convicted serve at least 85% of sentence, effectively getting rid of parole.
President Clinton’s Omnibus Crime Bill (Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994) is known as one of the most effective laws to advancing the rampant imprisonment of Black and brown bodies. It increased funding for building prisons, put 100,000 police officers on the streets in mainly Black and brown neighborhoods, and involved the Gun Free School Zones Act, which brought many police officers in schools.
Colin Powell becomes the first African American to serve as secretary of state.
Barack Obama is elected as the first African American president of the US and completes his second term.
Bloomberg starts Stop-and-Frisk in NYC, in which young black and latino men were targeted.
Sean Bell was killed the morning before his wedding by undercover NYC police. They shot 50 rounds at Bell and his two friends who were left with serious wounds.
The Black Lives Matter Movement was founded in 2013 by three Black womxn-- Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi– in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman. The Black Lives Matter mission is to “eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes, by combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy.” In 2014, the Movement gained even more traction after the horrendous murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by white police officer Darren Wilson, and the protests that followed.
Misty Copeland was the first black principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater.
Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic that has disproportionate infected and devastated Black and Indigenous folx, the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Dominique Fells, Riah Milton, and countless others at the hands of the American police state sparked a new era of the Black Lives Matter movement, the largest civil rights movement in world history.
For a more comprehensive resource and action doc, check out the following link by the Black Student Union of the Orange County School of the Arts: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1NfakOJlsoB2qI0rmiCwUmUHL3mLth3iX_g-tJs96gOk/edit?usp=sharing
- 13th– Ava Duvernay
- LA 92– TJ Martin, Daniel Lindsay
- Hoop Dreams – Steve James
- Hip Hop Evolution – Shad Kabango, Darby Wheeler, Rodrigo Bascuñán
- Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 – John Ridley
- Time: The Kalief Browder Story
- Moonlight– Barry Jenkins
- The Hate U Give– George Tillman
- Blackkklansman– Spike Lee
- Da 5 Bloods– Spike Lee
- If Beale Street Could Talk– Berry Jenkins
- Mudbound– Dee Rees
- When They See Us (TV Series)- Ava Duvernay
- Dear White People (TV Series) – Justin Simien
- Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Just Mercy – Bryan Stevenson
- Sister Outsider – Audre Lorde
- Assata: An Autobiography– Assata Shakur
- Are Prisons Obselete?– Angela Davis
- On Intersectionality– Kimberle Crenshaw
To Find Black-Owned Businesses