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Black Americans and the Law

American jurisprudence and law have profoundly shaped, defined, and constrained the lives of Black people for over 400 years. Racial inequality has extremely deep roots in American society, and our Constitution, statutes, court cases, and regulations not only bear witness to this, but are often the source of it. This timeline provides an overview of some of these laws, beginning with the first known case marking the legal difference between Africans and Europeans in 1640 in Virginia, and continuing with laws recently introduced in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and other Black Americans. While not exhaustive, the timeline focuses on a number of key legal events and actions that have structured and systematized racism in America.

Citations to respective cases, statutes, executive orders, etc., appear when applicable following the text and preceded by an emdash.

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Credit: Randall Winston, Kate Peck, Dean C. Rowan, UC Berkeley School of Law Library