Old Northwest. As Fehrenbacher puts it, "The head start given to antislavery in the west was soon offset in several ways." 19 The reticence of the federal government and St. Clair's interpretation of the ordinance produced a political climate favorable for the black laws.
Although the majority of white Americans in the Northwest never owned slaves, the enslavement of Africans reinforced the color prejudice of whites. Slavery made racial discrimination inevitable. The American legal culture did not recognize Africans as Americans who had a natural right to life, liberty, and property. The Ordinance of 1787 made such an interpretation possible. Although a few black males enjoyed suffrage until the turn of the century, all prospects for liberty to African Americans disappeared as whites matured in a culture that recognized blacks as slaves. 20 It was only natural that in each state formed from the Old Northwest the political systems did not regard African peoples favorably.
The documents that follow illustrate the development of the black laws, thereby providing a documentary history of racial discrimination in the Old Northwest. They show that the states formed from the region denied African Americans suffrage, public education, benefits of welfare, testimony against a white, freedom to marry a white, and imposed restrictions on militia service, immigration, and employment. By enacting discriminatory statutes, white lawmakers intended to reserve their states for whites only. They went to great lengths to make blacks unwelcomed in their respective states. Yet the African-American population boomed throughout the region in spite of the laws. African Americans considered racial discrimination more tolerable than slavery.
In time, African Americans and their allies challenged the legal policy of states in the Northwest. Persons of mixed ancestry first won consideration for civil rights in the courts. Judges developed a visible admixture rule, declaring that persons who "looked white" should receive the privileges of white people. Next, African Americans tried to desegregate common schools, but legislatures rewarded them with a segregated school system. Once the states endorsed educational opportunities for blacks, a few integrated schools emerged in areas where too few blacks lived to form a separate school. By the end of the 1870s, each state adopted ineffective civil rights laws, which disappeared under the "separate but equal" ruling of the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson ( 1896).
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Publication information: Book title: The Black Laws in the Old Northwest:A Documentary History. Contributors: Stephen Middleton - Author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1993. Page number: xxvii.