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Before the abolition of slavery and during the colonial period, the practice was legal in the United States, where several people of the Negroid race brought in from Africa were enslaved. These slaves were deemed to be economically productive as they provided labor on tobacco and rice farms around various regions of the US. After the termination of their term of indenture, these slaves were granted rights and freedom to live around the Chesapeake Bay in North America (Boles 54). Moreover, other free blacks came to America as employees working on ships. Consequently, by 1619, there were black people freely living within North America.
Due to factors such as the desire for better economic and social opportunities, the free blacks migrated to different regions within the US, whereby the majority settled in cities in the North and the South. As a result of the regional differences, they had diversity in the kind of lives that they led. In this regard, an evaluation of the lives of free blacks between 1619 and 1776 provides insight into different conditions that they were subjected to, and how these conditions changed over time.
Regional Differences of Free Blacks between 1619 and 1776
Upon gaining freedom from slavery, the lives of blacks varied widely depending on the regions that they settled in the US before the revolutionary war. For example, and according to Parrillo (93), cities located in the northern region offered free blacks more access to formal education, particularly those who settled in Boston. Those in the south mostly lived in rural settings and had their churches and secretly-run schools to advance their education (Parrillo 110). However, the laws governing their livelihood in the aspects of education and social interaction differed from one region to another owing to free-black bias. In this case, cities such as Baltimore, Charleston, Richmond, and New Orleans in the South and Boston and Philadelphia in the North portrayed diversity in the conditions in which the free blacks lived as described in the section below.
In the southern region, the free blacks lived in upper south states such as Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia and in lower south states including Louisiana, Texas, and South Carolina. The free blacks, who lived in South, experienced widespread racial discrimination. For instance, in the city of New Orleans, they were degraded in status and prohibited from participating in any form of political engagements (Ingersoll 176). Additionally, they were refrained from interacting with whites. For example, interracial marriage was outlawed in the Black Code of 1724 to prevent the increase in the number of mixed race and black individuals (Ingersoll 176). In addition, they were forbidden to sell goods such as meat, fish, and vegetables except when wearing their known badges. According to Ingersoll (177), the free blacks, who were found harboring runaway slaves, were either re-enslaved or paid hefty fines. Considering that freed blacks had manual occupations, those who refused to work on farms for small payment could be sued. As such, they remained poor and were denied rights to own property.
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Moreover, southern free blacks were required to accord the whites, especially their former masters, the highest level of respect lest they got whipped. In some cases, the law allowed whites to shoot and kill blacks in scenarios where the latter refused to meet the demands of the former (Ingersoll 179). However, the free blacks helped each other in many circumstances such as purchasing freedom for other slaves. They also formed alliances amongst themselves which protected them from whites in criminal injustices. In addition, they showed interest and affection toward each other. Ingersoll (190) asserts that apart from favoring black merchants in business, free blacks co-existed in harmony. Moreover, they could conduct funerals where blacks attended regardless of their social status. This, therefore, fostered unity in the black population that facilitated the subsequent revolutionary war in 1775 whereby the British militia conflicted.
As for the northern regions, few free blacks occupied that territory. Contrary to southern blacks, most lived in the urban cities, and they got access to education, especially those who lived in Massachusetts, though on a limited scope. Nevertheless, their children were restricted from attending public schools. According to Parrillo (93), free blacks in the north were also discriminated against since they were denied voting rights and service in juries. Additionally, they were refrained from moving from one state to another and experienced job disparities as they were given only those jobs that required little skill. Parrillo (93) further asserts that these free blacks were socially and economically disenfranchised. As a result, they faced segregation in accessing public social amenities and residential facilities.
The need for better life motivated the northern blacks to create their subgroup. They were granted certain rights, however, on a limited scope. Consequently, they worked together to establish their social institutions that were similar to those of the whites. For example, they formed churches and schools for the blacks and formulated mutual aid societies which provided educational and medical services for them (Parrillo 93). Additionally, they could also publish newspapers, protests, and petitions. These facilities provided a platform for airing their grievances and promoting their dignity. However, just like the southern blacks, the northern blacks were also discriminated against.
How Did the Conditions of Free Blacks Change over Time?
As years went by, the numbers of free blacks gradually increased. This, therefore, worried the whites in the southern region, who used republican institutions to reshape race relations and social structure (Ingersoll 200). Consequently, the purchase of freedom in New Orleans was banned, and no more slaves could be freed; hence the number of free slaves became small (Ingersoll 174). Moreover, racial segregation heightened, and this prompted the southern blacks to migrate toward the northern regions as more opportunities were found there. As a result, the number of free blacks diminished in the south.
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In the northern regions, the free slaves advanced in education and liberation from slavery. As a result, black leaders emerged to become the political, business, and cultural leaders of the free blacks. This led to subsequent deliberations and protests, which resulted into abolitionism in the US in 1865 (Boles 138). Thus, the black slaves were granted freedom from white domination after the American Civil War, and their lives became better amidst many racial discrimination challenges.
Slavery was a common and legal practice in the US during the period between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Most of these slaves were brought from Africa and thus constituted majorly of the Negroid race as noted. Upon termination of their service, they were granted freedom to become free blacks. As described, the free blacks lived in the northern and southern cities of the country. The major challenge that they faced was racial discrimination. Therefore, as discussed, their lives were varying depending on regional differences. Those in the southern regions were denied various rights such as political freedom and social interaction. They, however, coexisted in harmony with each other, and most of them later migrated to the northern parts of the country in search of better opportunities. As discussed, those in the northern regions were given limited rights, and, thus, they advanced their social and academic life through the development of their schools, hospitals, and churches. Consequently, they spearheaded abolitionism until slavery was abolished in the 19th century, upon which their lives improved.
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