Equality and Civil Rights: a Chronology of Black History di Giulia Tomasi Cont, Davide Pignata

A changing society

Looking Ahead

After the end of this section, you will be able to:

- compare and contrast the problems faced by free blacks in the North and in the South before the Civil War.

In the early and mid-1800s, Americans in greater numbers were interested in reforming what they saw as the evils of American life. Many joined reform movements. Some people felt society could not be changed so they chose to live away from it. Free blacks, however, seemed to have little choice. They had to make their living in American society, but the interest in freedom and equality did not reach to them. Because they were prevented from fully participating on society, free blacks began building their own organisations. A movement for abolition of slavery started to develop during these years.

[E] Free Blacks

One change in American society during the early to mid-1800s was an increase in the number of free blacks. Their numbers rose from about 59,550 to 488,000 during the first 70 years of the nation. There were several reason for this. During and after the Revolutionary War, most northern states passed laws that gradually freed slaves. In addition, some slave owners set their slaves free as a reward for service. A few owners allowed slaves to buy their freedom. Also, owners often rented their slaves to others. Some owners let their slaves keep part of the money they made and save it to buy their freedom. Also, some blacks gained their freedom by running away.

Free blacks faced many of the same problems as slaves. In the South, laws prevented free blacks from moving within a state or from one state to another. Except for a short time in North Carolina and Tennessee, free blacks could not vote. They could not serve on juries or testify in court. At any time, free blacks could be stopped and asked for proof of their freedom. If found without it, a free black could be claimed as a slave.

The treatment of free blacks in the North was not much better. In most northern states, they could not vote, serve on juries, or hold public office. Before free blacks could settle in some northern states, they had to give $500 as a guarantee of good conduct. In towns and cities, free blacks were forced to live in areas apart from whites. Churches, schools, hospitals, restaurants, theatres, concert halls, steamboats, and trains wither had separate sections for blacks or did not allow them at all. Because so many restrictions were placed on free blacks, they established their won organisations. The most important was the black church. Black churches grew rapidly in the North before the Civil War.

The idea begun one Sunday morning in 1787 in Philadelphia. White church officials pulled Richard Allen and two other blacks from pews at the front of the church. They were told to go to the section for blacks. Instead, the three walked out. As a result of their treatment, Allen and Absalom Jones organised the Free African Society that became the [E1] [E2] Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1794. The AME Church spread from Philadelphia to other parts of Pennsylvania and into New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. By 1816, the separate churches were joined together with Allen as bishop. Other black churches, such as the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, were soon founded. In the South, laws against the gathering of free blacks prevented the growth of black churches until after the Civil War.

Besides serving the spiritual needs of its members, black churches had other purposes. They were the training ground for black leaders. In towns that kept black children from public schools, the churches set up their own schools. Churches helped members find jobs. Picnics and church dinners gave free blacks opportunities to socialize. Some black churches sponsored newspapers. Finally, the church was the place where blacks met to talk about their roles in the antislavery movement and politics.

Looking Back

- What problems did free blacks face in the: a. North? b. South?

- Were the problems the same or different?



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