During 1800-1860 there were many factors that severely limited black lives in the free states. Unjust laws and discrimination dominated the free states and made it so that blacks had limited opportunities in life, whether it be politically, economically, or socially. This discrimination was the catalyst which severely limited black life in the free states between 1820 and 1860 were segregation, discrimination, violence, and political exclusion was present.
First, we understand that segregation wasn’t only present in the south. “North and Northwest served as the area for the earliest forms of segregation in the U.S before the South stated to follow. 1829,1836,1841- Ohio riots against blacks and 1863 in NY”.2 These black communities in spite of all the adversities they’ve faced served as the basis for abolition. Many freed blacks in the North had relative enslaved in the south- they fought for this community, for emancipation for their civil and political rights
As soon as Northern states had abolished slavery, others had put planned to end it through gradual emancipation, many slaves were free by the 19th century. Ironically, as slavery ended in the northern states, racial prejudice became even stronger. Whites believed they were far more superior than blacks and without the institution of slavery to cement their beliefs, “they turned to other methods to exert their beliefs” 1. The white men in power unsuccessful attempted to ship all the African Americans off to other areas outside of the United States. These attempts were unsuccessful because most blacks saw America as their home rather than a country they have never seen.
The judicial system continued to limit the black lives in free states. Before we talk about the unfair practices that were taken place in the courtroom, we must speak upon the lack of laws that would have protected blacks in the free states. African Americans men and women alike had little recourse against injustices committed by white Americans or unfair treatment by law enforcement. In the rare event, a black man can have a trial to prove that he has been wronged the jury would have been biased against him. This is because juries did not include black man. This was common practice alongside, “having African Americans prohibited from being witnesses and restricting them from becoming lawyers” 2. Thus, by removing blacks from the judicial process, the power was placed in hands of white American. This in return led to biased outcome against a black man. Which resulted in higher rate of imprisonment and convictions for African Americans, thus severely limited black lives in the free states.
The lack of protection against offenses by white Americans can be clearly seen in Solomon Northup narrative. Solomon was born free. He lived and worked in upstate New York with his family. Solomon was also an accomplished violin player. Then two con men offered him lucrative work playing fiddle in a circus, so he traveled with them to Washington, D.C, where he was drugged, kidnapped, and subsequently sold as a slave. For twelve years Solomon survived as the human property of several different slave masters, with the bulk of his bondage lived under the cruel ownership of a southern planter named Edwin Epps. Even though slavery was mostly eradicated in the north, the demand for slaves in the south hung over the heads of free blacks due to the lack of legal protections. The slave dealer that was responsible for kidnapping Northup, James H. Burch, did not face any repercussions. This is because Burch could lie about the events that transpired and Northup was prohibited from testifying and contracting Burch’s testimony. Thus, Burch along with many other had every incentive to continue to kidnap and sell free African Americans. As a result, Northup and free blacks like him, are left to live in fear of kidnapping.
A black man and their supporters in free states were often victims of attacks that were racially motivated in nature. Riots ran rampant through the states and decimated black neighborhoods. Moreover, not only did these riots target blacks, both rich and poor alike, but they also targeted white supporters. Success among black people and black communities angered racist whites to another level and the more success the whites saw, the more violence there was. A black man would attempt to gather to protect themselves against these attackers. Unfortunately, the police would have disarmed the black population, which in return left them vulnerable to more attacks by whites. “Racial riots like this happened in cities like Boston, New York, Providence, and Philadelphia because local officials refused to protect Africans Americans.” 2 These riots would harm most black lives in free states one way or another.
There was also the lack of job opportunities which would severely limit economic growth in the black community. One factor that limited this growth was the mass European immigration, about 5 million, most come into the Northeast & they’ll create a huge new working class that will compete with the black working population. Many Europeans come here because of poverty, famine, wanting a better life. This would render the possibilities for an African American to find a skilled job almost impossible. Thus, jobs and opportunities become smaller and smaller, also access to these skilled jobs decreases for the black community. Now the mass European immigration was a part of this because it led to a growing white working class. Discrimination was the other part prevented black man and women alike form obtaining these skilled jobs, this was evident because according to our textbook “black men and women alike aren’t allowed to compete in the market for skilled and semi-skilled work.” 3 . Most jobs that African Americans got were paid poorly and were unskilled. Moreover, these jobs were often only temporary and many black people faced times of unemployment. Black people worked in increasingly unskilled occupations from 1820 to 1860 due to the increasing white population whether native-born or immigrant. Black people were then forced to work the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs instead because they still needed to provide for their families. This lack of opportunity for economic growth would limited black lives from prospering in the free states.
These dangers and low skilled jobs did have a lot of negative externalities for the black communities. First is simply the lack of healthcare and poor living conditions in the black communities. It was common to find black communities separate from white neighborhoods. The overall life in these black communities was horrific. “African Americans lived in densely packed areas, which would lack public services such as sanitation, police, and firefighters.” 2 This lack of public services and healthcare led to higher death rates for African Americans and shortened African American life spans. Blacks and whites were always separated when it came to public institutions and communities, but there were some events that forced blacks and whites to inhabit the same area, such as public transportation. Unfortunately, even in these areas, blacks were forced to sit in separate areas or different cars. According to Professor Harding “Black families were smaller which helped reduce the strain on the budget.” 2 This can be seen as a silver lining but in the long term, the small family size would limit earning a potential of the family in the future. There was also a poverty trap that is present in the black communities. African Americans lacked access to education which would clearly hurt their future earning potentials. “The position of free blacks can be described as a poverty trap.” 2 Thus, because black lives were restricted in transportation, housing, education black lives were limited in the free states.
There is also a lack of representatives in political offices by African American. While all white men gained the right to vote after 1830, black men lost their right. All white can vote regardless of if owning property, but these rights did not extend to black Americans. This created a divide between the two different societies. As a black man, you’re free but you’re denied access to political rights, this in return labeled black men as 2nd class political citizens. Every state that entered the Union after 1819, except for Maine, did not allow black men to vote. This continued to until 1860 because black men could only vote in a Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. This was a calculated form of political exclusion which was implemented to prevent black people from having any political power. Which efficiently put whites at a higher position than blacks. This lack of political representation for black American severely limited the lives of black people in free states.
Now this separation between black and whites did lead to the creation of Black Nationalism. Freed black man created a community which led to the creation of Family. They could create households where they can make their own decision, no matter how limited those decisions were. Even though most blacks weren’t allowed in white churches, this didn’t stop them from creating their own black churches. Beginning of the 19th cent, black churches were created. These black communities were separated from the whites and lacked most social and economic freedom that white community had, but this didn’t stop the black community from trying to prosper.
In conclusion, there were many factors that severely limited black lives in the free states. Unjust laws and discrimination dominated the free states and made it so that blacks had limited opportunities in life, whether it be politically, economically, or socially.