UM Offers New Timeline on African Americans, Montana Justice System

April 10, 2018

MISSOULA – The history of African-American Montanans’ relationship to state law and the criminal justice system is now available in an easily accessible form thanks to the work of a graduate of the University of Montana’s African-American Studies program.

With funding made possible in part by UM’s Montana Justice Initiative, Julia Sherman spent much of fall 2017 and early 2018 researching the history of black Montanans and their involvement with the state’s legal and judicial systems. The resulting timeline begins in 1864 and follows events through 2018.

The timeline is online

Featuring archival photos, interpretive commentary and hundreds of individuals and events, the timeline is designed to assist students, teachers and the general public in learning the fascinating history of African Americans in Montana.

Highlights of the timeline include:

  • 1864: whites-only restrictions for jury service and school board elections instituted.

  • 1867: African-American men vote in Helena for the first time.

  • 1883: A seven-year, interracial protest effort results in the successful overturning of segregation laws in the Montana territory and the passage of a bill prohibiting racial segregation in Montana’s schools.

  • 1909: The Muffly Law outlawing racially mixed marriages becomes law despite opposition by black-run newspapers like The Montana Plaindealer and the Afro-American Protective League.

  • 1921: KKK in Montana peaks at 5,100 members.

  • 1942: A battalion of black soldier miners are forced out of the Butte mines.

  • 1953: Muffly Law overturned.

  • 1964: U.S. Sen. Mike Mansfield helps pass the U.S. Civil Rights Act.

  • 1972: Montana Constitution includes anti-discrimination rights for all.

The timeline also includes informative discussions of lynching, racial and gender dynamics at the Deer Lodge penitentiary, the racial attitudes of longtime warden Frank Conley, the influence of Booker T. Washington in Montana, and black-run newspapers.

Sherman worked in consultation with UM African-American Studies Director Tobin Miller Shearer and Montana Historical Society’s Kate Hampton to develop the timeline.

The research and development of this timeline was made possible with generous support from the African-American Studies Program, the Demers/Price Family Endowment for Montana History and the Montana Justice Initiative.


Contact: Tobin Miller Shearer, UM associate professor of history, director of African-American Studies, 406-662-8227, .