During 1800-1860 there were many factors that severely limited black lives in the free states. Unjust laws and discrimination dominated the free states and made it so that blacks had limited opportunities in life, whether it be politically, economically, or socially. This discrimination was the catalyst which severely limited black life in the free states between 1820 and 1860 were segregation, discrimination, violence, and political exclusion was present.
First, we understand that segregation wasn’t only present in the south. “North and Northwest served as the area for the earliest forms of segregation in the U.S before the South stated to follow. 1829,1836,1841- Ohio riots against blacks and 1863 in NY”.2 These black communities in spite of all the adversities they’ve faced served as the basis for abolition. Many freed blacks in the North had relative enslaved in the south- they fought for this community, for emancipation for their civil and political rights
As soon as Northern states had abolished slavery, others had put planned to end it through gradual emancipation, many slaves were free by the 19th century. Ironically, as slavery ended in the northern states, racial prejudice became even stronger. Whites believed they were far more superior than blacks and without the institution of slavery to cement their beliefs, “they turned to other methods to exert their beliefs” 1. The white men in power unsuccessful attempted to ship all the African Americans off to other areas outside of the United States. These attempts were unsuccessful because most blacks saw America as their home rather than a country they have never seen.
The judicial system continued to limit the black lives in free states. Before we talk about the unfair practices that were taken place in the courtroom, we must speak upon the lack of laws that would have protected blacks in the free states. African Americans men and women alike had little recourse against injustices committed by white Americans or unfair treatment by law enforcement. In the rare event, a black man can have a trial to prove that he has been wronged the jury would have been biased against him. This is because juries did not include black man. This was common practice alongside, “having African Americans prohibited from being witnesses and restricting them from becoming lawyers” 2. Thus, by removing blacks from the judicial process, the power was placed in hands of white American. This in return led to biased outcome against a black man. Which resulted in higher rate of imprisonment and convictions for African Americans, thus severely limited black lives in the free states.
The lack of protection against offenses by white Americans can be clearly seen in Solomon Northup narrative. Solomon was born free. He lived and worked in upstate New York with his family. Solomon was also an accomplished violin player. Then two con men offered him lucrative work playing fiddle in a circus, so he traveled with them to Washington, D.C, where he was drugged, kidnapped, and subsequently sold as a slave. For twelve years Solomon survived as the human property of several different slave masters, with the bulk of his bondage lived under the cruel ownership of a southern planter named Edwin Epps. Even though slavery was mostly eradicated in the north, the demand for slaves in the south hung over the heads of free blacks due to the lack of legal protections. The slave dealer that was responsible for kidnapping Northup, James H. Burch, did not face any repercussions. This is because Burch could lie about the events that transpired and Northup was prohibited from testifying and contracting Burch’s testimony. Thus, Burch along with many other had every incentive to continue to kidnap and sell free African Americans. As a result, Northup and free blacks like him, are left to live in fear of kidnapping.
A black man and their supporters in free states were often victims of attacks that were racially motivated in nature. Riots ran rampant through the states and decimated black neighborhoods. Moreover, not only did these riots target blacks, both rich and poor alike, but they also targeted white supporters. Success among black people and black communities angered racist whites to another level and the more success the whites saw, the more violence there was. A black man would attempt to gather to protect themselves against these attackers. Unfortunately, the police would have disarmed the black population, which in return left them vulnerable to more attacks by whites. “Racial riots like this happened in cities like Boston, New York, Providence, and Philadelphia because local officials refused to protect Africans Americans.” 2 These riots would harm most black lives in free states one way or another.
There was also the lack of job opportunities which would severely limit economic growth in the black community. One factor that limited this growth was the mass European immigration, about 5 million, most come into the Northeast & they’ll create a huge new working class that will compete with the black working population. Many Europeans come here because of poverty, famine, wanting a better life. This would render the possibilities for an African American to find a skilled job almost impossible. Thus, jobs and opportunities become smaller and smaller, also access to these skilled jobs decreases for the black community. Now the mass European immigration was a part of this because it led to a growing white working class. Discrimination was the other part prevented black man and women alike form obtaining these skilled jobs, this was evident because according to our textbook “black men and women alike aren’t allowed to compete in the market for skilled and semi-skilled work.” 3 . Most jobs that African Americans got were paid poorly and were unskilled. Moreover, these jobs were often only temporary and many black people faced times of unemployment. Black people worked in increasingly unskilled occupations from 1820 to 1860 due to the increasing white population whether native-born or immigrant. Black people were then forced to work the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs instead because they still needed to provide for their families. This lack of opportunity for economic growth would limited black lives from prospering in the free states.
These dangers and low skilled jobs did have a lot of negative externalities for the black communities. First is simply the lack of healthcare and poor living conditions in the black communities. It was common to find black communities separate from white neighborhoods. The overall life in these black communities was horrific. “African Americans lived in densely packed areas, which would lack public services such as sanitation, police, and firefighters.” 2 This lack of public services and healthcare led to higher death rates for African Americans and shortened African American life spans. Blacks and whites were always separated when it came to public institutions and communities, but there were some events that forced blacks and whites to inhabit the same area, such as public transportation. Unfortunately, even in these areas, blacks were forced to sit in separate areas or different cars. According to Professor Harding “Black families were smaller which helped reduce the strain on the budget.” 2 This can be seen as a silver lining but in the long term, the small family size would limit earning a potential of the family in the future. There was also a poverty trap that is present in the black communities. African Americans lacked access to education which would clearly hurt their future earning potentials. “The position of free blacks can be described as a poverty trap.” 2 Thus, because black lives were restricted in transportation, housing, education black lives were limited in the free states.
There is also a lack of representatives in political offices by African American. While all white men gained the right to vote after 1830, black men lost their right. All white can vote regardless of if owning property, but these rights did not extend to black Americans. This created a divide between the two different societies. As a black man, you’re free but you’re denied access to political rights, this in return labeled black men as 2nd class political citizens. Every state that entered the Union after 1819, except for Maine, did not allow black men to vote. This continued to until 1860 because black men could only vote in a Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. This was a calculated form of political exclusion which was implemented to prevent black people from having any political power. Which efficiently put whites at a higher position than blacks. This lack of political representation for black American severely limited the lives of black people in free states.
Now this separation between black and whites did lead to the creation of Black Nationalism. Freed black man created a community which led to the creation of Family. They could create households where they can make their own decision, no matter how limited those decisions were. Even though most blacks weren’t allowed in white churches, this didn’t stop them from creating their own black churches. Beginning of the 19th cent, black churches were created. These black communities were separated from the whites and lacked most social and economic freedom that white community had, but this didn’t stop the black community from trying to prosper.
In conclusion, there were many factors that severely limited black lives in the free states. Unjust laws and discrimination dominated the free states and made it so that blacks had limited opportunities in life, whether it be politically, economically, or socially.
1 White, Deborah G., et al. “2.” Freedom on My Mind: a History of African Americans, with Documents, vol. 1, Bedford/St. Martins, 2017, pp. 257–260.
2 White, Deborah G., et al. “3.” Freedom on My Mind: a History of African Americans, with Documents, vol. 1, Bedford/St. Martins, 2017, pp. 272–278.
3 Professor Harding, Mark class discussion Intro to African Studies Fall 2017
Intro African History
Assignment: Describe the African American experience of the Civil War between 1861-1865. How did the free people define freedom?
Before we speak about the African American experience we must understand why the war begin. There is a common miss belief that the war was started because of slavery. Now slavery did play a big role but, “The Civil War began as a southern war for Confederate independence and a northern war to defeat the Confederate rebellion and restore the Union. At the outset, neither side thought that the war would last very long or eventually lead to the destruction of slavery. The Confederacy was founded to protect slavery.”1 The Union was willing to accept slavery where it already existed but was opposed only to the extension of slavery into the new territories.
Most slaves fought on the side of the Union, but there were some slaves that fought on the side of the Confederates. Some figures that were mentioned in class. There were about 179,000 African American who served in over 160 units in the Union army, also according to professor Harding runaway slaves from the South who enlisted to fight and northern free African Americans were counted for when these figures were created. On the other hand, the Confederacy and its African-Americans were still slaves, but like the north, the Confederate slaves served mostly in labor positions.
When the war broke out free black men imaginable rushed to volunteer their services for the Union forces. Unfortunately, unlike wars in the past that were black Americans who had served in the army and navy during the American Revolution, weren’t permitted to enlist “because of a 1792 law that barred them from bearing arms in the U.S. Army” 2 There was also feared that accepting black men into the military would cause border states like Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri to secede, which inadvertently would have crushed the chances of the Union Army from winning the war.
President Lincoln’s decision about free man aside, Union commanders had to make decisions about the increasing numbers of runaway slaves. Runaway slaves saw the war as an opportunity to escape for the pursuit of freedom, which they believed was obtainable behind Union lines. After reading our textbook it was common for generals to take runaways slaves as contraband. “General Benjamin F. Butler of the Union army designated slaves as contraband of war”2 This was allowed because slaves were property in the south, thus general Butler was able to use and keep these runaway slaves. The general put these runaway slaves to work in non-combat roles in exchange for wages. Later Congress would classify these slaves along with others that we captured during the war as refugees by passing the First Confiscation Act.
As the war and its battles spread to southern states, it was more and more common for Union commanders to issue the proclamation to free slaves in the new areas they controlled. This created an interior battle in the Union. “John C. Fremont, the major general of the Department of the West, freed the slaves of disloyal slaveholders in Missouri and, in 1862, General David Hunter freed all slaves in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.”2 Unfortunately, Lincoln disapproved these orders and proclamations wanting to keep the focus of the war on maintaining the Union. This was only temporary because eventually, Lincoln saw the utility and advantages that slaves would have provided to the Union.
These proclamation success stories eventually enlightened Lincoln. Thus, Lincoln saw the potential benefits of labeling the war as a being anti-slavery outweighed the harm it would have done otherwise. Which in return allowed Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”4. Unfortunately, the proclamation applied only to states that had seceded from the Union. Which would leave slavery untouched in the Union states, But Lincoln’s proclamation was able to connect freedom with the Unions success. Which meant that the freedom it promised depended upon Union army victory.
Slaveholders in the confederacy knowing how the news of the Emancipation Proclamation would have tempted their slaves to rebel. Some slaveholders attempted to appease slaves by agreeing so some demands of freedom, allowing slaves to grow and sell their own crops and their own plot of land. Slaveholders also attempted to hide the news from their slaves, some slave owner tried to move their slaves further down South to isolated regions. However, the news spread with the advance of the Union army. Thus, as the Union and the news of proclamation spread it captured the hearts and imagination of millions of African Americans, and fundamentally transformed the character of the war from a war for the Union into a war for freedom. Moreover, the proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union army and navy.
This new belief of the war being a war of freedom didn’t account for low numbers of enlistment. Recruitment was low until there was growing active efforts to enlist black volunteer leaders like Frederick Douglass encouraged free black men to volunteer to ensure eventual full citizenship. One factor that could contribute to the weak enlistment numbers is that black Union soldiers did not receive equal pay or equal treatment. According to Freedom of the Mind “black soldiers were paid $10 a month, with $3 deducted from that pay for clothing and food, white soldiers received $13 a month with no clothing deduction.” This was clearly a problem which is why Congress granted retroactive equal pay after 1864. There was also racial discrimination present within the army. The black’s soldiers were often not treated as equals by white soldiers or by the white generals. This was evident because white generals would have low opinions of their colored troops and failed to adequately train them. The discrimination continued because black soldiers were given second-rate equipment which was worse than the equipment given to the white soldiers. This discrimination would explain the higher rate of black deaths in the army. This discrimination magnified when black soldiers were captured by the Confederacy. Black soldiers that were captured by the Confederates faced harsher treatment than white prisoners of war.
As mentioned before black soldiers fought on both sides of the battlefield. The difference is that African American who fought on the side of the Union fought for the possibility of freedom and citizenship. African Americans that fought on the side of the Confederacy were likely forced to enter the war by slaveholders. There were multitudes of tasks given to black soldiers during the war no matter what side. African Americans on both sides of the war served in relief roles. Normally relief roles would require African American worked as nurses, cooks, and blacksmiths. A difference present in the south was that the South refused to arm blacks. Most of the food grown for the Confederacy was grown by African Americans and slaves also worked for the military by building roads and other fortifications, being servants, and cooking. Another valuable resource that the newly freed slaves provided was information. “Black also served as spies and scouts to the Union Army, providing valuable information about Confederate forces, plans, and familiar terrain.”3.
Lincoln’s initial fear of inward rebellion was a sound fear that manifested itself into riots. The length of the war was the catalyst for these riots. The war uncountable length eventually meant there was going to be a shortage of soldiers. This shortage would later lead the Union to declare a draft. This draft would in return frustrated the lowers class because the wealthy were able to avoid the draft by paying a fee. Thus, the lower class would take its frustrations out on the free blacks. “White Americans resented the war because they were unwilling to fight for the end slavery especially because many believed that the newly freed slaves would come north to take their jobs”.3 This uncontrollable anger along with misconception lead to riots that targeted African Americans in Brooklyn, Detroit, and the worst being in New York City. “Local officials in these cities were criticized for failing to protect the black population” 2.
The silver lining to this war was that is allowed a free man to defined freedom for themselves. Black man defined freedom as the ability to have right, the ability to fight for these rights. Thus, free man and women alike were willing to fight for these rights regardless of the discrimination that presents in the south and north alike. Freeman was willing to fight and did so in this war.