The artwork created by African American visual artists throughout the 1960s and 1970s is reflective of the cultural and sociopolitical events that made the period such a climactic point in American and African American history. From David Hammon's commentary on the "Chicago Seven" trial in his Injustice Case to Alma Thomas' meditation on space exploration in Eclipse, African American art both aligned with and outside the prescriptions of The Black Arts Movement drew heavily from current events for its subject matter.

Futhermore, the 1960s and the 1970s were times of historic "firsts" in African American art. While a number of black-owned studios and museums were established to provide a forum for African American art in the black community, African American artists like Romare Bearden, Richard Hunt, and Alma Thomas had the first solo exhibits granted African Americans in national institutions like the Whitney Museum of American Art.

This timeline highlights the sociopolitical events and artistic achivements that framed the Black Arts Movement and the African American visual art produced during the period. The timeline begins in 1963, the year Spiral, an organization whose artistic and social concerns foreshadowed the debates of the Black Arts Movement, was founded. The timeline ends in 1978, the latest date of artwork featured in the Perceptions of Black Galleries.

You may scroll through the timeline or use the links below to view the events of a specific year.

1963 | 1964 | 1965 | 1966 | 1967 | 1968 | 1969 | 1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978


King speaks at March

  • Spiral, a collective of 12 African American artists including Romare Bearden, Hale Woodruff, Emma Amos, Reginald Gammon, Richard Mayhew, and Alvin Hollingsworth, meet to discuss the commitment of African American artists to the civil rights movement and to debate the necessity of a black aesthetic.
  • The March on Washington garners national attention for the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King delivers his famous "I Have A Dream Speech."
  • Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Addie May Collins, four black girls attending sunday school, are killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.
  • President John F. Kennedy is assasinated in Dallas, Texas.


LBJ signs Civil Rights Act of '64

  • Months after their disappearance in June, the bodies of slain CORE workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman are found in a dam outside Philadelphia, Mississippi.
  • President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Lawrence's Confrontation at the Bridge

  • Cultural Historians designate this year the beginning of the Black Arts Movement. The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man are published.
  • Spiral holds its first and only group exhibition, 'Black and White' at the Christopher Street Gallery in New York. (Initially, "Mississippi 1964," was selected as the exhibition title to call attention to the murder of Core workers in Mississippi the year before, but a number of Spiral members felt the title was too political for their craft. "Black and White" was subsequently chosen as a more moderate expression of the artist's civil rights alliance. The art exhibited by Spiral, all crafted in shades of black and white, includes Romare Bearden's Mysteries and Reginald Gammon's Freedom Now.
  • Malcolm X is assasinated in the Audobon Ballroom in Harlem.
  • Hundreds of civil rights marchers depart from Selma for a peace march to Montomery, Alabama. At the Edmund Pettus Bridge, law enforcement officials attempt to stop the march. After days of verbal and physical abuse, the marchers are allowed to continue across the bridge.
  • Riots erupt in cities across the nation, Los Angeles and Watts.
  • President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act.


Black Panther Party

  • Under the leadership of Stokely Carmichael, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNNC) circulates a position paper, The Basis of Black Power formally endorsing Black Power politics in the "mainstream" civil rights movement.
  • The Black Panther Party is founded.
  • The First World Festival of Negro Arts is held in Dakar, Senegal.
  • The "Art of the American Negro" exhibit is sponsored by the Harlem Cultural Council.


The Wall of Respect

  • The Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC) paint The Wall of Respect, a mural on Southside Chicago building dedicated to African American leaders like Muhammed Ali, W.E.B. DuBois, and Malcolm X.
  • The Studio Museum in Harlem and the Anacostia Museum of Culture and History in Washington, D.C. are established.
  • Ben Jones, Ademola Olugebefola, and other members of the Weusi artists' group open the Nyumba Ya Sanaa Gallery in Harlem as an alternative to mainstream exhibition spaces for black art.
  • Black Panther leader H. Rap Brown becomes the chairman of SNCC.
  • Romare Bearden and Carroll Green Jr. co-curate "The Evolution of Afro-American Artists: 1800-1959" at the College of the City University of New York.
  • The "Negro in American Art" exhibition at the Frederick S. Wright Gallery, UCLA opens.
  • Muhammed Ali is stripped of his heavy-weight title and convicted for refusing to serve in Vietnam.


Olympic Black Power Salute

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Within two months of King's murder, presidential candidate Robert Kennedy is shot and killed in Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel.
  • Drawing international attention to the rise of Black Power, US track athletes raise clenched fists during the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City.
  • Mulana (formerly Ron)Karenga, a noted theorists of Black Cultural Nationalism, begins a campaign to make Kwanzaa a recognized black holiday.
  • Amiri Baraka founds The Black Arts Repertory Theater School.
  • OBAC changes its name to the Coalition of Black Revolutionary Artists (COBRA) and later to the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists (AfriCobra) in support of Pan-Africanism. Members of AfriCobra include Jeff Donaldson, Wadsworth Jarrell, and Barbara Jones-Hogu.
  • The Museum of the National Center for Afro-American Art is established in Boston.
  • American Greeting Gallery, New York and the public relations firm Ruder and & Finn sponsor traveling exhibits, "New Voices" and "30 Contemporary Artists," to support contemporary African American art.
  • The Studio Musuem in Harlem hosts "Invisible Americans: Black Arts of the 30s," in response to the Whitney Museum of Art's exhibition of art from the 1930s which ommitted the work of African American artists.
  • William T. Williams, Guy Garcia, and Melvin T. Edwards join to form Smokehouse and paint murals in Harlem.
  • The United States begins manned space exploration with Apollo 8.


Hammon's Injustice Case

  • The African Arts Magazine is established at the University of California at Los Angeles.
  • "Harlem on My Mind" is exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. African American artists and art critics angered by the exhibit's depreciative treatment of African American art establish the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC).
  • The Studio Museum in Harlem hosts "X to the Fourth Power," a group exhibition featuring the work of William T. Williams, Sam Gilliam, Melvin Edwards, and Steven Kelsey, a white artist.
  • Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark are killed in a raid by Chicago police.
  • Romare Bearden founds the Cinque Gallery in New York City.
  • Apollo 11 successfully lands on the moon.
  • The "Chicago Seven" trial begins. Anti-war radicals including Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin are tried for intent to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention. An eight defendent, Balck Panther leader, Bobby Seale, is tried separately. Seale is bound and gagged in the courtroom after serveral outbursts.


Confaba's logo
  • "African American Artists, New York and Boston" is exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
  • Women, Students and Artists for Black Art (WSABAL) for Black Art Liberation is organized in New York City.
  • The Studio Museum in Harlem and the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in Boston host "AfriCobra I."
  • Art Students enrolled in Professor Jeff Donaldson's African American art history course at Northwestern University host the Conference on the Functional Aspects of Black Arts (CONFABA) to discuss how African American visual art can be made more meaningful for the black community.
  • Faith Ringgold participates in the "People's Flag Show," a protest against laws restricting the use of the American flag. She is arrested along with fellow artists John Hendricks and Jean Toche.


  • "Where We At, Black Women Artists, 1971," is exhibited at the Acts of Art Galleries in New York. The exhibition features the work of Dinga McCannon, Faith Ringgold, and Kay Brown, women who later found the "Where We At" artists' collective to address the traditional exclusion of African American women artists from organizations like Spiral.
  • The Whitney Museum of American Art organizes the exhibtion "Contemporary Black American Art," and later schedules the solo exhibits of black art.
  • Marking an historical first for African American visual artists, Romare Bearden and Richard Hunt have solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art.
  • The Congressional Black Caucus is established.


Thomas' Eclipse
  • Alma Thomas is the first African American woman artist to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
  • Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress, announces her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president.


  • The National Black Feminist Organization is founded.


  • The Sixth Pan-African Congress convenes in Tanzania


  • David C. Driskell, African American artist and art historian, organizes "Two Centuries of Black American Art," an exhibition held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
  • Black Art: An International Quarterly (now The International Review of African American Art) makes its debut. Jan Jemison, Val Spaulding, and Samella Lewis established the magazine to lend visibility to the work of African American visual artists.
  • The Museum of African American Art in Los Angeles and the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum in Philadelphia are established.


FESTAC celebration in Nigeria
  • Alex Haley's Roots airs on national television.
  • The Second World Black and African Festival of Art, FESTAC '77, is held in Lagos, Nigeria.


  • The Cleveland Museum hosts "The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts."
  • Louis Farrakhan organizes a new Nation of Islam.

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