Timeline: History, Witness, and the Struggle for Freedom in African American Poetry

From the eighteenth century roots of African American poetry, its poets have expressed their existence in a society that debated and debased their humanity. Today their intense exploration of their voices in the racially charged years of the early twenty-first century gives witness to the acts of remembering a disturbing past in which African Americans struggled for human and civil rights. The timeline begins in 1950 with Gwendolyn Brooks’ winning of the Pulitzer Prize, the first time an African American had been recognized with this distinction. For the poets, African American history is a source of power and an impulse to action. Visitors to the Furious Flower Archive will witness the various dimensions of artistic freedom and the lengths poets go to achieve poetic expression.

Gwendolyn Brooks is the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize in any category; she is recognized for her book of poetry, Annie Allen.

The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that segregated schools are “inherently unequal” and thus unconstitutional.

Emmett Till is found murdered in Money, Mississippi. Rosa Parks, enraged by the incident, refuses to yield her seat to a white man in Montgomery, AL. Her arrest sparks the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

“A Bronzeville Mother Loiters In Mississippi. Meanwhile, A Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon” by Gwendolyn Brooks

”Rosa Parks“ by Nikki Giovanni

“Rosa” by Rita Dove

Arkansas National Guard protects nine Black youths as they integrate Little Rock’s Central High School. Led by NAACP member Daisy Bates, they become known as the Little Rock Nine.

The “sit-in” movement begins when four Black students from North Carolina A&T sit at Woolworth’s lunch counter and refuse to leave when denied service.

CORE-sponsored Freedom Riders begin a trip throughout the South to desegregate bus terminals. LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) publishes his first book, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note.

“Freedom Ride” by Rita Dove

Shortly after the March on Washington, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama is bombed by white supremacists in the Ku Klux Klan. Four young girls are killed and the Civil Rights Act gains traction in Congress in response.

“A Counterman Dreamer” by Samuel W. Allen

“American History” by Michael S. Harper

Civil rights legislation champion President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in downtown Dallas, Texas.

“The Assassination of John F. Kennedy” by Gwendolyn Brooks

Malcolm X is assassinated on February 21, 1965, at a rally for the Organization of Afro-American Unity; his work and his death inspires many artists in the Black Arts Movement.

“Malcolm X, February 1965” by E. Ethelbert Miller

“For Malcolm X” by Margaret Walker

“Black Art” by Amiri Baraka

“love Child—a black aesthetic” by Everett Hoagland

“Black Aesthetic” by Alvin Aubert

Dudley Randall founds Broadside Press, which published many African American poets of the time. In 2015, Broadside Press merged with Naomi Long Madgett’s Lotus Press, founded in 1972, to form Broadside Lotus Press.

The first U.S. troops arrive in Danang on March 8, 1965, marking the day the U.S. entered the Vietnam War. In 1968, 10.5% of the total military strength was African American soldiers.

“Debridement” by Michael S. Harper

“The Bronx is Where Dreams are Made” by E. Ethelbert Miller

The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones by Amiri Baraka

“BlackMagic” by Amiri Baraka

“Barbequed Cong or We Laid My Lai Low“ by Eugene Redmond

“The Great Pax Whitie” by Nikki Giovanni

Martin Luther King Jr is assassinated on April 4th.

“Reflections on April 4, 1968” by Nikki Giovanni

“Riot” by Gwendolyn Brooks

“In the Spirit of Martin” by Nikki Giovanni

“In Memoriam: Martin Luther King Jr” by June Jordan

The Stonewall Riots in New York City act as a catalyst for LGBT+ social and political activism.

“Domestic” by Carl Phillips

“Poem for My Love“ by June Jordan

“Recreation“ by Audre lorde

President Richard Nixon formally declares the “War on Drugs”.

“Dope” by Amiri Baraka

“The B Network” by Haki Madhubuti

“Untitled (1967)” by Haki Madhubuti

Richard Nixon pulls remaining troops out of Vietnam, marking the end of US participation.

Affirmative Action is legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, by stating that “race could be used as one criteria in the admissions decisions of institutions of higher education.”

“Affirmative Action Blues” by Elizabeth Alexander

AIDS crisis emerges as a national issue and is largely ignored by the federal government. Minority populations are disproportionately affected and millions die over the following 15 years.

“An Anthem” by Sonia Sanchez

“Does Your House Have Lions?” by Sonia Sanchez

Alice Walker coins the term “womanist” in her book In Search of our Mothers Gardens.

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw coins the term “intersectionality” as the awareness of interlocking systems of oppression (race, gender, sexual orientation, ability etc.) that further marginalize persons when combined.

“I Am a Black Woman” by Mari Evans

“For Black Women Who Are Afraid” by Toi Derricotte

“The Second Sermon on the Warpland” by Gwendolyn Brooks

“For Sweet Honey in the Rock” by Sonia Sanchez

“Nikki Rosa” by Nikki Giovanni

The Dark Room Collective, an influential African American poetry collective that featured prominent figures in Black literature, is founded in Boston.

“View of the Library of Congress from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School” by Thomas Sayers Ellis

“Some Kind of Crazy” by Major Jackson

“Why I Love My Father” by John Keene

“Offering” by Sharan Strange

“His Hands” by Natasha Trethewey

“Cousins” by Kevin Young

The first monumental Furious Flower Conference is held at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia in honor of Gwendolyn Brooks.

“For Sister Gwen Brooks” by Sonia Sanchez

“The Agony and the Bone” by Dolores Kendrick

“For Gwendolyn Brooks: Queen of the Image…” by Pinkie Gordon Lane