The Black Laws in the Old Northwest: A Documentary History

By Stephen Middleton | Go to book overview
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The strategy of intimidation did not restrain black Illinoisans for long; a movement to repeal the black laws germinated in the state. African Americans formed a society called the Repeal Association, a group dedicated to condemning and rescinding the black laws. John Jones, a black emigrant to Illinois during the early nineteenth century, rose to become the most prominent black leader to denounce the black laws. Jones, who was born free in North Carolina, left the Tar Heel State because he anticipated greater freedom in the North. He was greeted in Illinois by state officials who insisted that he conform to the black laws. Jones registered his name in 1844, pursuant to the Illinois immigration and residency statute. A skilled tailor, he made a small fortune in that business. Unpleasant experiences as a freeman continually disturbed him, so he joined the repeal association to help do away with the black laws. Along the way Jones entered politics. Ultimately, he became a notary public and, after the Civil War, a county commissioner in Illinois.

Had it not been for the Civil War, reform probably would not have come to Illinois before the twentieth century. Unlike its Ohio counterpart, the Illinois legislature did not repeal any part of the black laws before the war. The war, therefore, transformed Illinois; it forced the legislature to repeal the black laws. Black Illinoisans also benefitted from civil rights reforms initiated by Congress in 1866. Illinois adopted a few civil rights laws of its own. Civil rights reform in Illinois was a half-hearted effort, however, and the state remained rigidly segregated into the twentieth century. This is the story chronicled in this segment of The Black Laws. It presents a history of the pattern of discrimination in Illinois from the territorial stage in the late 1700s to the end of the next century.

Leon F. Liwack, North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free State, 1790- 1860, ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961) pp. 67-68; Eugene H. Berwanger , The Frontier Against Slavery; Wetern Anti-Negro Prejudice and the Slavery Extension Controversy, (Urban: University of Illinois Press) p.37.
Litwack, North of Slavery, p.37.


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