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In 1873, the short-lived Unification Movement began in Louisiana, then occupied by federal troops under Reconstruction. The movement consisted of whites and elite Creoles who sought a peaceful end to Reconstruction and a reformed government that allowed for cooperation among the races. Among the most prominent supporters of the movement was newspaper publisher Louis Charles Roudanez (1823–1890), who used his position as founder of the New Orleans Tribune to promote the goals of the Unification effort In June 1873 the Committee of One Hundred drew up a platform that was among the most progressive among political movements in the postwar South Along with the core principals of equality and freedom of expression excerpted below the committee also called for equal distribution of public offices among the races and an end to all public segregation Within a few years however the movement faltered Rural whites were openly hostile while working ...

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Joseph P. Reidy

Reconstruction politician, was born in Edgefield District, South Carolina, the son of unknown slaves on the plantation of Francis Pickens, a prominent politician. Little is known of Bradley's youth and early manhood other than that he was a shoemaker for a time in Augusta, Georgia, and that he escaped slavery and made his way to the North, apparently during the 1830s. He lived for a time in New York and in Boston. In Boston he not only met abolitionists but also studied the law and eventually became a practicing attorney.

The Civil War opened new horizons. Bradley returned south late in 1865 and settled in Savannah, Georgia, intending, it seems, to open a law practice and a school. Drawn inexorably to the public arena, he began to champion the cause of freed people who were resisting President Andrew Johnson's policy of restoring plantation land to its antebellum owners Bradley ...

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Michael J. Ristich

journalist, musician, and politician, was born James Henri Burch in New Haven, Connecticut, to Charles Burch, a wealthy black minister, and his wife. Burch was the sole black student at Oswego Academy in New York, where he was trained in journalism and music. He lived in Buffalo, New York, before the Civil War, where he became involved in the antislavery movement and taught music. Burch became an active member in the Garnet League, which championed the rights of former slaves. Upon moving to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Burch quickly worked his way in the political circles of Louisiana, serving in the Louisiana House of Representatives and the Louisiana Senate.

At age thirty two with his father s encouragement Burch left the North for Louisiana to aid and educate free blacks during Reconstruction Soon thereafter Burch began directing the local school for blacks and began his rise through the Louisiana state ...

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Agnes Kane Callum

slave, farmer, teacher, Reconstruction-era state legislator and lawyer, was born in South Carolina's famed Edgefield District. He was literate and the favored slave of Major Thomas Carwile the commissioner in equity of Edgefield Cain was probably raised much like other slave children on Edgefield plantations they would be cared for by an elderly lady while their mothers worked in the fields until the children were about six or seven years old when they were sent to work in the fields many serving as water carriers or weed pullers In some instances they were sent to work by the side of an adult Generally the children were called quarter workers since they produced about one fourth as much labor as an adult It is not known exactly how Cain learned to read and write but it is likely that he was taught by his owner as he was known as ...

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Steven J. Niven

blacksmith and state legislator, was born to slave parents whose names have not been recorded. Nothing is known of his childhood, other than that he had one brother, Sam. By the time he reached adulthood, Charles Caldwell was working as a blacksmith in Clinton, a small village in Hinds County twelve miles from Jackson, Mississippi. Given that Mississippi's slave population expanded rapidly in the three decades after 1830, it is quite possible that Caldwell was born in another state to planters who had then brought or sold him on the lucrative Mississippi market.

Caldwell s skilled trade provided him a degree of relative autonomy in his work and may have enabled him to travel with fewer restrictions than the average plantation slave Slave blacksmiths carpenters barbers and other skilled workers often learned to read and write as Caldwell did and generally enjoyed a high status within the African American ...

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Benjamin R. Justesen

merchant, public official, religious leader, and longtime state legislator, was born in Perquimans County, North Carolina, the eldest son of free, mixed-race parents John Cail (Cale) and Elizabeth Mitchell, a homemaker, who were married in 1827. His father worked as a miller, later as a fisherman, and moved his large family—as many as nine children—to Edenton in nearby Chowan County in the 1850s. Little is known of Hugh Cale's early life or education, although he had learned to read and write by the end of the Civil War.

After the Union army occupied much of northeastern North Carolina in early 1862, Cale began working as a manual laborer for federal installations at Fort Hatteras and Roanoke Island. In 1867 he moved to Elizabeth City North Carolina where he commenced a singularly successful career as a grocer and held a number of local offices during and after ...

Primary Source

Five years after it was introduced in Congress by Charles Sumner and Benjamin Butler in 1870 the Civil Rights Act of 1875 became nominally the law of the land It stated that no person could be denied public accommodations on account of race color or previous condition of servitude Such accommodations included inns public conveyances on land or water theatres and other places of public amusement This law which had been the subject of great contention in the legislature was never enforced and in 1883 was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on the grounds that Congress did not have power over the conduct and transactions of individual citizens The act was the fourth passed after the Civil War in an attempt to extend civil rights to the formerly enslaved The first three acts guaranteed the right to hold real and personal property the right to sue and be sued ...

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Alonford James Robinson

South African human rights activist Bishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu once said, “Politics is the art of the possible.” But for much of U.S. history, blacks were shut out of political life. Before the American Civil War, when most African Americans were enslaved, blacks were legally prohibited from voting and from holding political office, and were punished for participating in public protest. Political participation by blacks did not become legal until the Reconstruction period and passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1870, giving black men the right to vote. Even then, black suffrage was weakened by officially sanctioned racial discrimination.

During Reconstruction, sixteen African Americans were elected to Congress and over 600 to state legislatures. But by 1877 many newly granted political rights were being rescinded by state officials; black political representation declined so sharply that by 1900 only one black member remained in ...

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Douglas Hales

politician, labor leader, and community leader, was born one of eight slave children in Austin County, Texas, to a prominent white planter and politician, Philip Minor Cuney, and Adeline Stuart, a slave of mixed race birth. In the decade prior to the Civil War Cuney's father began manumitting his slave children, sending Norris Wright and his two brothers to the black abolitionist George B. Vashon's Wylie Street School for Colored Youth in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During the Civil War Cuney left school to work on riverboats on the Mississippi River. Following the war he joined members of his extended family in Galveston, Texas, where he entered politics. One brother, Joseph, also earned an enviable reputation in Galveston. On 5 July 1871Cuney married Adeline Dowdy who was the progeny of a white planter and slave mother They had two children Maud who attended the New England Conservatory ...

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James Sellman

The Democratic Party, formed in the late 1820s, is the world's oldest existing political party. Together with the Republican Party, which appeared during the 1850s, it makes up the American two-party system. In many respects, the two parties have reversed nineteenth-century positions, and African Americans, who strongly identified as Republicans through the 1920s, have become equally firm since the 1940s in their commitment to the Democrats.

During the nineteenth century virtually no African Americans supported the Democratic Party The Democrats were opposed to a strong central government to reform measures and to blacks During the antebellum era the party drew much of its strength from white Southerners who staunchly defended the institution of slavery and feared that free blacks would incite slave rebellions In any case no slaves and few free blacks had the right to vote The main sources of Democratic strength in the North were Midwesterners born ...

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Charles Rosenberg

author, advocate for the civil rights of African Americans in Louisiana, an organizer of the Citizen's Committee that launched the Plessy v. Ferguson legal challenge to racial segregation in public transportation, was the son of Jeremie Desdunes and Henriette Gaillard Desdunes.

Rodolphe Desdunes's grandson, Theodore Frere, recalled in 1971 that Jeremie Desdunes was Haitian and Henriette from Cuba; the couple reported in the 1880 census that both were born in Louisiana, Jeremie's mother was born in Cuba, and Henriette's father in France. All the Desdunes' sons consistently reported that their parents were both born in Louisiana (Census 1880, 1900, 1920). The Desdunes family was part of New Orleans's large community of gens de couleur libre—free people of color, primarily French-speaking. The 1840 census lists a Jeremie Des Dunes in the Third District of New Orleans whose household included five free colored males and ...

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Howard N. Rabinowitz

Robert Brown Elliott was born probably in Liverpool, England, of unknown West Indian parents. Elliott's early life is shrouded in mystery, largely because of his own false claims, but apparently he did receive an English public school education (but not at Eton as he claimed) and was trained as a typesetter. It is likely also that in 1866 or 1867, while on duty with the Royal Navy, he decided to seek his fortune in America and jumped ship in Boston harbor, without, however, taking out citizenship papers. All that is known for certain is that by March 1867 Elliott was associate editor of the South Carolina Leader, a black-owned Republican newspaper in Charleston. Shortly thereafter he married Grace Lee Rollin, a member of a prominent South Carolina free Negro family. The couple had no children.

During Reconstruction South Carolina s population was 60 percent ...

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Howard N. Rabinowitz

Reconstruction politician and U.S. Congressman, was born probably in Liverpool, England, of West Indian parents whose names are unknown. Elliott's early life is shrouded in mystery, largely because of his own false claims, but apparently he did attend a private school in England (but not Eton as he claimed) and was trained as a typesetter. It is likely also that in 1866 or 1867, while on duty with the Royal Navy, he decided to seek his fortune in America and jumped ship in Boston Harbor, without, however, taking out citizenship papers. All that is known for certain is that by March 1867 Elliott was associate editor of the South Carolina Leader, a black-owned Republican newspaper in Charleston. Shortly thereafter he married Grace Lee Rollin, a member of a prominent South Carolina free Negro family. The couple had no children.

During Reconstruction South Carolina s population was ...

Primary Source

In 1865, 1866, and 1867, the state of Louisiana passed a series of laws aimed at restricting the movement, legal rights, and economic opportunities of newly freed people. The passage of these black codes was part of a larger trend in the region that began with Mississippi and South Carolina, with each state implementing its own unique set of laws. Louisiana’s black codes were based in part on the Code Noir, an ordinance concerning the institution of slavery which dated back to French colonial rule in the eighteenth century. Louisiana was one of the most violent states following the war, and the tension is apparent in some of the harsher provisions of the law below, including nebulous definitions of “trespassing” and punishment for “enticing” laborers to leave their employer to whom the person “is assigned to live.”

Primary Source

The Fifteenth Amendment was the third final and most controversial of the Reconstruction Amendments A guarantee for African American men of the right to vote the amendment was passed by Congress on 26 February 1869 and by 30 March 1870 had been ratified by twenty nine of the thirty seven states Those states that initially rejected and subsequently ratified the amendment were New Jersey ratified 1871 Delaware ratified 1901 California ratified 1962 Maryland ratified 1973 and Kentucky ratified 1976 Tennessee rejected the amendment and as of this writing has yet to ratify it Prior to the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment the right to vote had been granted only to black men in the District of Columbia in U S territories and in the former Confederate states as a condition of their readmission to the Union When the Fifteenth Amendment was proposed it received as much if not more resistance ...

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Terry D. Goddard

The designation “Jim Crow laws” refers to legislation in effect in a majority of American states in the nineteenth century intended to enforce segregation in places of business and public transportation. The name of these laws is derived from a minstrel song called “Jim Crow,” which was written by a struggling actor named Thomas Dartmouth Rice in 1838. Rice, a white man who wore blackface makeup, played Jim Crow on the New York stage as a stereotypical African American—a poorly educated and somewhat silly singer and dancer. Jim Crow laws were applied not only to schools, theaters, restaurants, hospitals, and public rest rooms but also to railroad cars and bus terminals. They were enforced in such northern states as Delaware and North Dakota as well as in the South after the Civil War.

As this brief description of these laws indicates, Frederick Douglass s escape from slavery in ...

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Thomas J. Davis

Jim Crow’s scandalous history as a term of opprobrium signifying black/white racial segregation started, then, years before the United States abolished slavery in 1865. The phrase settled as a castelike social description marking African Americans as simultaneously accommodated yet ostracized. Jim Crow cropped up in Louisville, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and New York City in the 1830s as the name of a song and dance, “Jump Jim Crow.” The term quickly became more than a minstrel show title. It appeared in Massachusetts in 1841 to describe railroad cars set apart for blacks, but the name became attached to more than the seating arrangements on railroad cars, as Sarah Roberts’s case showed in 1848 When the City of Boston s school board barred five year old Sarah from attending her neighborhood public primary school and instead assigned her to one of two schools appropriate to colored children her father the ...

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Samuel Brenner

Between the late nineteenth century and the beginning of the twenty first century African Americans interacted with judges and the judiciary on two major levels first as objects of legal decisionmaking whether as lawyers parties or uninvolved citizens notably in cases involving civil rights and second as members of the judiciary making those decisions The later history of the first level is ironic while the federal courts led the way in the mid twentieth century in dismantling the system of Jim Crow legalized segregation the only reason it was the judiciary rather than the federal legislature that needed to do so was that in the late nineteenth century the U S Supreme Court had acted specifically to thwart Congress s probable attempt to accomplish the same goal decades earlier On the second level while at the beginning of the twenty first century the total number of African American judges remained ...

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Patrick G. Williams

politician and lawyer, was born a slave on a plantation in Abbeville District, South Carolina. Of mixed race, he was probably the son of his owner, Samuel McGowan, and a slave woman, whose name is unknown. When McGowan entered Confederate service during the Civil War, Lee attended him in the camps and on the battlefield. Lee was wounded twice, at Second Manassas in 1862 and later near Hanover Junction, Virginia. After emancipation, he farmed in Abbeville District and then in Edgefield County, South Carolina, having settled in Hamburg. By 1870 Lee had accumulated at least $500 in real estate and $400 in personal property. Sometime before February 1872 he married a woman identified in legal documents as R. A. Lee; her maiden name is unknown.

Though not formally educated as a youth Lee had learned to read and evidently developed talents as a debater and orator fairly ...

Primary Source

Following the Civil War, recently freed people often had to establish or reestablish legal custody over their own children (or other young relative), and often found their efforts thwarted by the prevailing judicial system. In a letter below, Cynthia Nickols of Clinton, Louisiana pleads with the regional Freedmen’s Bureau office to release her grandson Porter, who at the time was living with former slaveholder Sandy Spears. Porter’s father, the letter explains, was serving in the military, and Nickols makes the case that she should take the child into her custody. However, as the following letter shows, a Lt. James DeGrey vouched for Spears as the legal guardian, arguing that the slaveholder had “raised” the child, and that “the old lady wants the boy [only] because he is now able to do some work.” As Mary Niall Mitchell notes in Raising Freedom s Child Black Children and Visions of the Future ...