Freedomways Reader: Prophets in Their Own Country

By Esther Cooper Jackson; Constance Pohl | Go to book overview

8
The United States and the Negro, No. 1, 1961

W. E.B. DU BOIS

This article appeared in the inaugural issue of Freedomways.

In 1861 the legal status of the American Negro was something like thus: The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in an obiter dictum, had just said that, historically, the Negro had "no rights which a white man was bound to respect." Neither a horse, nor Frederick Douglass, could get an American passport for travel. Mules and men were sold at auction in Southern cities; and, while Bob Toomb's threat to auction slaves on Bunker Hill was unpopular, the act would not have been illegal. White Americans shuddered at miscegenation, yet in 1801 there were two million colored women who had no right to refuse sexual intercourse with their white owners. That these masters exercised this right was shown by 588,000 mulattos in 1860. Kidnapping of free Negroes in the North had been made easy by the Fugitive Slave Law. All agreed that the Constitution recognized slavery as a legal institution and that the government was bound to protect it. Abolitionists were considered as contemptible for consorting with impossible radicals and recogniz

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