Within the last five hundred years, there have been countless untold moments in black history when black people have endured outrageous brutality. From institutionalized racism to foreign oppressors to the torturous hand of slave owners, the list goes on, and it’s ugly. It will make your stomach sick just thinking about it. However, we also need to recognize realities by learning black history to better understand the events that shaped our present. If we want to make a better future, learning about the past is the best first step. Here are 25 Horrid Moments in Black History.
The Birmingham Campaign
In 1963, African American activists in Birmingham organized a massive campaign to protest segregation in Alabama, including lunch sit-ins, City Hall marches, and merchant boycotts. In response to the non-violent protests, police used high powered water hoses and dogs to attack men, women, and children.
Starting in 1937 by the U.S. Housing Act, federal agencies marked areas on the map in red that they thought weren’t fit for investment or safe for insurance companies. Called Redlining, many African Americans lived in those neighborhoods and banks would arbitrarily use it as a guise to deny them loans. In theory, the 1968 Civil Rights Act outlawed the practice, but its impact is still felt today.
Judge Edward Aaron
Judge Edward Aaron (Judge is his first name, not his title) was attacked by the Ku Klux Klan in 1957. They beat him with an iron, castrated him, and threw him in a river to die. He almost died of blood loss but was found by the police and recovered. Six of the men were convicted but George Wallace, then governor of Alabama, pardoned them.
Freedom Rider Attacks
In 1961, an interracial group protesting segregation started a bus tour from Washington D.C. to Lousiana. They called themselves Freedom Riders. They first encountered violence in Rock Hill, South Carolina, where white males beat black riders for using a bathroom that was “Whites Only.” Things only grew worse when they reached Alabama. They were met by a mob that beat them with baseball bats, iron rods, and chains. They also threw rocks at them and slashed the bus’s tires. When the bus drove outside of town to be repaired, white supremacists firebombed it.
On a march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, 600 civil rights marchers got to Edmund Pettus Bridge and were met by police with billy clubs. The lawmen attacked the marchers, beating them with the clubs, throwing tear gas, and forcing them back to Selma. The violent event was dubbed Bloody Sunday.
In 1847, Dred Scott, an African American slave, sued for his freedom when he was taken to Wisconsin where slavery was illegal. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court. They shamefully ruled that people of African ancestry could never become citizens of the United States.
Emmett Till was a 14-year-old boy from Chicago visiting family in Mississippi in 1955. One day, when he supposedly flirted with a white woman, he was murdered four days later by her husband and brother. They forced Till to carry a 75 pound cotton-gin fan to the bank of the Tallahatchie River. Then they beat him nearly to death, gouged out his eye, and shot him in the head. Strapping his body to the fan with barbed wire, they threw him into the river. The two men were tried in court with an all-white jury and the verdict was “not guilty.”
Assassination of Malcolm X
Civil rights leader Malcolm X for years had been at odds with Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-violence philosophy in the movement, but after taking a pilgrimage to Mecca, and saw the lack of racial discord, came back, and adopted a more moderate approach to the movement which became more influential. Sadly, his new approach came to an end when he was assassinated on February 21, 1965.
16th Street Baptist Church Bombing
On a Sunday morning in 1963, a bomb exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, a primarily black church that was also used as a meeting place for the civil rights leaders. Four young girls were killed and many more injured due to the bombing. It was the third bombing in 11 days.
Mississippi Burning Murder
In 1964, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman came down to Mississippi to help with the civil rights efforts and teamed up with a local African American man, James Chaney. After the three investigated a church burning, they were arrested by sheriff Cecil Price, also a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and thrown into prison. When they were released, Klansmen picked them up, drove them into a secluded area and gunned them down and buried their bodies. Nineteen men were indicted but only seven were found guilty. Nine were acquitted and three others didn’t serve more than six years in prison.
Philando Castile Shooting
After being pulled over for a busted tail-light, Philando Castile was shot by police officer Jeronimo Yanez. Castile’s girlfriend recorded the horrific event with her phone as Castile bled to death and their child cried in the backseat. Yanez shot Castile after he reached for his wallet and told the officer he had a gun with him and a conceal permit. Yanez pled not guilty and was acquitted.
In 2014, after police officer Darren Wilson gunned down African American teenager Michael Brown in the street, protests in Ferguson, Missouri erupted over police brutality. Brown’s body was shot seven times and his body lay in the street for at least four hours before being removed. No charges were brought forward against Wilson, sparking even more violent protests.
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church Shooting
During a bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Dylan Roof, a white male sitting in the bible study with a predominately African American group, opened fire, killing nine people. Roof was arrested fourteen hours later at a traffic stop. The victims ranged in age from 26 to 87 and the pastor was included among them.
In 1991, Rodney King led police on a high-speed chase and when the police caught him and ordered him out of the car, they ruthlessly beat him with batons for fifteen minutes. A video was taken of the horrific incident with other police officers watching it take place and doing nothing about it. King suffered brain damage, skull fractures, broken teeth, and broken bones. The incident sparked riots in Los Angeles after the officers were found not guilty.
Jim Crow and Racial Segregation
After the American Civil War and Reconstruction of the South, “Separate but Equal” laws, also known as Jim Crow Laws, began to crop up especially after the ruling of “Plessy vs. Ferguson” in 1896. These laws ushered in segregation, forcing black people to have separate accommodations, including transportation, bathrooms, water fountains, and schools, among other things.
South African Apartheid
Similar to racial segregation in the United States, South African Apartheid was introduced in 1948 to separate black people from white people. While this was already playing out in their society, Apartheid cemented it into law. Black people were removed from their cities, relocated, and stripped of most of their rights, forced to go to certain schools, hospitals, and even park benches.
The number of African Americans incarcerated in the United States has skyrocketed and dwarfed most countries. Legal scholar Michelle Alexander writes in her book The New Jim Crow that the war on drugs has acted as a new way for the government to mass incarcerate African Americans, especially African American males who make up a majority of the prisoners. In a report, African Americans were 5 times more likely to be imprisoned than white Americans.
Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
On April 4th, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr., a leader in the Civil Rights Movement since the 1950’s, was killed on the second floor of the Lorraine Motel. A sniper’s bullet struck him in the neck. He died at the age of 39, sparking a wave of riots across the country in over 100 cities.
After an article was published in the local paper which white supremacists deemed offensive in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, the author, Emerson Bentley, left town. Told Bentley had been murdered, though he wasn’t, black residents took up arms and marched into town met by their white neighbors. After the massacre, some two to three hundred black men were killed. The article was about educating black children.
For decades, African Americans were under the terror of mass lynchings driven by the racism of the Ku Klux Klan. One, in particular, was the Moore’s Ford Bridge lynching in 1946, often considered America’s last mass lynching. Two black couples, George and Mae Murray Dorsey, and Dorothy and Roger Malcolm, were brutally murdered and hanged. Dorothy Malcolm was pregnant, and her baby was cut out of her by the attackers. People believe the Ku Klux Klan was involved, but no one was brought to justice.
During Belgian King Leopold II’s ruthless and brutal reign from 1885 to 1908 in the Congo, people were enslaved, beaten, mutilated, starved to death, and killed. If the Congolese people didn’t meet their quotas of harvesting rubber, they were beaten with whips first and later killed. Women and children would have their hands chopped off to motivate the workers to work harder. Villages were often burned to the ground, and because the Belgians didn’t take care of and feed the workers properly, they often fell prey to disease and died by the hundreds of thousands.
The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment
In Macon County, Alabama, 600 African American men who had syphilis were experimented on rather than treated to see the effects of the disease. The men were given placebos and told they had “bad blood.” Lasting from 1932 to 1972, the Public Health Service, despite being able to treat syphilis with Penicillin, convinced physicians not to treat the men. The researchers did nothing as the men went blind, insane, or experienced severe health problems. The story broke in 1972 and the project was shut down.
In 1994, in only a matter of months, the Hutu ethnic majority in Rwanda murdered a staggering 800,000 people. By the time a military offensive could stop the bloodshed, 2 million more people were displaced and had become refugees.
Colonialism in Africa
From 1870 to the early 1900’s, with the collapse of the slave trade, Europe quickly raced to colonize Africa, taking over large swaths of land that extended from almost every point except Liberia and Ethiopia. The primary motivation by Europe was economic, fueled by the Industrial Revolution and the need for raw materials. The result was immense suffering, with thousands of Africans dead and thousands more under brutal oppression by their new European rulers.
Of the horrid moments in black history, the transatlantic slave trade ranks as the most horrendous event. From 1526 to 1867, 12.5 million Africans were ripped from their homes, separated from their families, and many sent across the Atlantic. If they survived the voyage, which it’s estimated 15 to 25 percent did not, they would work every day in brutal and inhumane conditions without pay, being sold and traded around like cattle, and beaten and whipped if they “got out of line.”
For more information on the slavery, see 25 Shocking Facts About Slave Trade.