The Black Laws in the Old Northwest: A Documentary History

By Stephen Middleton | Go to book overview

Preface

It has been more than a century since the emancipation of African Americans from slavery and a few decades since the civil rights revolution in the United States. However, at the publication of this volume, sporadic episodes of violence between black and white Americans are far too common. Misunderstanding between these Americans covers everything from affirmative action to public education. Hostilities between these races are not always expressed violently. According to newspaper accounts, the exclusion of black children from "private" swimming pools and the exclusion of blacks from neighborhood country clubs (even when they live in the community where the club is located) is far too common. Why has racial discrimination persisted in the United States so long after emancipation? I don't know. Compiling documents for this book makes it clear that a "free zone" does not mean the absence of racial prejudice.

The Northwest Territory, under the Ordinance of 1787, was such a free jurisdiction. The ordinance's sixth article declared slavery illegal, and presumably, entitled African Americans to citizenship status. In no way did the ordinance subjugate blacks already living in the Old Northwest. Yet clever white residents found ingenious ways to violate America's first antislavery and civil rights document.

When states formed in the Northwest Territory adopted "black laws," they too abridged the legal rights of black people. This is the subject of this volume, and it is a reminder to Americans of all races that the United States inherited a racial policy that still haunts our country. It is ironic that this racist creed also arose in the Old Northwest, a region supposedly dedicated to "freedom."

-xv-

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