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African American History in the American West: Primary Documents

Primary Documents:

Listed below are major documents that help explain the history of African Americans in the West.

The Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831). The U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Cherokee people are an Indian tribe, a “domestic dependent nation,” and thus are not a sovereign nation of the laws of the State of Georgia.

Worcester v. Georgia (1832). The U.S. Supreme Court reverses its earlier ruling, stating that the Cherokee nation is a “distinct community” with “self-government” in which the laws of Georgia have no force. This ruling establishes that the federal government, and not individual states, has authority over Indian affairs.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848). Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848). Mexico and the United States sign the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The treaty transfers control of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah from Mexico to the United States. Mexico also relinquishes its claim to Texas in exchange for $20 million.

The Oregon Exclusion Law (1849). This measure, a reaffirmation of earlier territorial exclusion laws, prevents African Americans from migrating to or residing in Oregon Territory.

The Utah Slave Code: An Act in Relation to Service (1852). Utah’s Slave Code governing the relations between the enslaved in the territory and their owners, was enacted in February 1862.

Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857). The U.S. Supreme Court rules that enslaved people are property protected by law in every state, that the enslaved are not entitled to use the courts, and that enslaved people and their descendants can never be citizens.

Mason v. Smith, The Bridget “Biddy” Mason Case (1856). Los Angeles District Court Judge Benjamin Hayes frees Bridget “Biddy” Mason and her thirteen extended family members.

The Homestead Act (1862).The Homestead Act grants free land in the West to any citizen who was at least 21 years old, provided they build a home there.

The Cherokee Emancipation Proclamation (1863). The pro-Union Cherokee government issues an emancipation proclamation abolishing slavery in the Nation. The Cherokees are the only Indian Nation to end slavery before 1865.

The Texas Emancipation Proclamation (1865). Texas Emancipation Proclamation (1865). General Gordon Granger leads Union forces ashore at Galveston, Texas where he issues a proclamation abolishing slavery in Texas.

Texas Black Codes (1866). These were the first laws established in a western state that attempted to control the actions and regulate the behavior of the freedpeople.

U.S. Treaty with the Cherokee Nation (1866). All former slaves of the Cherokee Nation are given the right to settle north of the Arkansas River. The Cherokee Nation also gains the ability to elect its own officials to represent Cherokees in government.

U.S. Treaty with the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations (1866). Establishes an official peace between the United States and the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations. The Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations agree not to hold slaves in bondage, and to allow African Americans the rights of regular citizens.

U.S. Treaty with the Creek Nation (1866). All former slaves of the Creek Nation are given citizenship rights including the right to vote and the ability to elect their own officials to represent them in the Creek government.

U.S. Treaty with the Seminole Nation (1866). The treaty grants all former slaves of the Seminole nation citizenship rights including the right to vote, own land and the ablitity to elect their own officals to represent them in the Seminole government.

Territorial Suffrage Act (1867).  This Congressional measure extends voting rights to approximately 800 African American males in the western territories of the United States.

Ward v. Flood (1874). The Supreme Court of California rules that the Broadway Grammar School is allowed to deny admission to Mary Frances Ward, an 11-year old African American girl, based solely on her race.

The Memorial of the Chickasaw Freedmen (1882). Chickasaw Freedpeople, protesting the discrimination against them by the political leaders of the Chickasaw Nation, petition the U.S. Congress to protect their rights as both tribal citizens including in particular their right to vote in local elections.

Wysinger v. Crookshank (1890). The Supreme Court of California rules that the public school of Visalia is legally within its rights to deny admission to Arthur Wysinger, a 12-year old African American boy, based solely on his race.

The Dawes Severalty Act (1887). Members of Indian Nations are given “reservations” on which to live and farm, and are designated as wards of the government.

Guinn v. United States (1915). This U.S. Supreme Court Decision strikes down the Grandfather Clause which prevents African Americans in Oklahoma and other states from voting.

Hazel Dixon Manuscript (1937). Hazel Dixon was one of Seattle's African American pioneers.  The wife of William Dixon, the grandson of William Grose, the second African American to settle in Seattle, Dixon lived in a period which saw the city's black population grow from approximately 300 to 3,700.  This account, written by Dixon in 1937, is one of the few surviving primary source histories of the black community.   

Executive Order 8802, Ban on Discrmination (1941). This order by President Franklin D. Roosevelt bans racial, ethnic and religious discrimination in hiring in all industrial facilities receiving federal contracts.

James v. Marinship (1944). James v. Marinship (1944). The California Supreme Court rules that labor unions can not have closed unions which exclude black members.

Smith v. Allwright (1944). This ruling from the Supreme Court finds that voting restrictions against African Americans are unconstitutional.

Executive Order 9981 (1948). This order by President Harry S. Truman desegregates the U.S. Armed Forces.

Sipuel v. Oklahoma State Board of Regents, (1948). U.S. Supreme Court decides in an Oklahoma case that states must admit qualified African Americans to previously all-white graduate schools when no comparable black institutions are available.

The Washington State Law Against Employment Discrimination (1949). Employers are now required by law to hire employees without taking race into account.

McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents (1950). The U.S. Supreme Court rules against classroom and social segregation on the basis of race.

Sweatt v. Painter (1950). The U.S. Supreme Court rules in a Texas case that states must make equal educational faculties available to African American graduate and professional students.

Alaska Fair Employment Practices Act (1953).  The state of Alaska bans racial discrimination in employment.

The Oregon Fair Employment Practices Act (1953).  Oregon employers are banned from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, religion, color or national origin.

The New Mexico Civil Rights Act (1955).  The Sate of New Mexico bans discrimination in public accommodations due to race, color, religion, ancestry or national origin. 

Colorado Fair Employment Practices Law (1957).  Colorado bans racial discrimination in employment.

The Washington State Omnibus Civil Rights Act (1957).  This measure enacted by the Washington State Legislature in 1957, is the second civil rights act in the state's history.

California Fair Employment Practices Law (1959).  The state of California bans racial discrimination in employment.

Idaho Fair Employment Practices Act (1961).  Idaho bans racial discrimination in employment.

Kansas Fair Employment Practices Act (1961).  Kansas bans racial discrimination in employment.

O'Meara v. The Washington State Board Against Discrimination (1961). The Washington State Supreme Court invalidates the portion of Washington's 1957 Anti-Discrimination Statute which applies to private housing.

Hawaii Fair Employment Practices Act (1964).   Hawaii becomes the last western state to enact a ban on racial discrimination in employment before the 1964 Civil Rights Act is passed.

To Feed Our Children (1969).  In 1969 the Black Panther Party began its Free Breakfast Program. Their reasons for the program appear here.

Keyes v. School District No. 1, Denver, Colorado (1973). The U.S.Supreme Court, in one of the first cases dealing with school segregation outside of the South, rules that the entire school district rather than a single neighborhood should be included in school desegregation efforts and that the school district involved assumes the burden of proving thatit operated its schools without segregative intent.

DeFunis v. Odegaard (1974). A white student previously denied admission to the University of Washington took the university to court, claiming that his scores were higher than some minorities admitted. DeFunis was admitted, but in his final year the school reversed their decision. The Supreme Court ruled that he would be allowed to complete his studies.

University of California Regents v. Bakke (1978). The U.S. Supreme Court rules against quotas for minority medical school applicants.

Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena (1995).  The Supreme Court again called for strict scrutiny in affirmative action cases saying that such program must fulfil a compelling government interest and must be narrowly tailored to fit the particular situation.

Hopwood v. State of Texas (U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals) (1996). Four white students who had been denied admission to the University of Texas claimed that they had been unfairly rejected because minority candidates had taken their places. It is ruled that the University of Texas can not use race as a means of determining who to admit to their school.

California Proposition 209 (1996). This voter-approved statewide initiative amended the state constitution to effectively end affirmative action programs in the State of California.

Washington Initiative 200 (1998). This voter-approved statewide initiative made affirmative action programs illegal in the State of Washington.

Lawrence v. Texas (2003). The U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a Texas law that prohibited sexual acts between same sex couples.  The decision, which simultaneously struck down similar laws in thirteen other states, was a major victory for advocates of gay and lesbian rights. 

The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (2006).  This is the ban on affirmative action in Michigan passed by the voters in the November 2006 state election.  It became law on December 22, 2006.

Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (2007) The U.S. Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling involving Seattle Public Schools, prohibited the use of race as the sole factor in pupil assignments and said racial balance is not a compelling state interest. 

Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative 424 (2008).  Nebraska becomes the fourth state to invalidate affirmative action programs.    


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