For free African Americans, the South was never a comfortable place. In a slave society their presence was always suspect, and slaveholders went to great lengths to limit their numbers.
In the 1830s, for example, Virginia was one of a number of Southern states whose laws required that a freed slave must leave the state within a year of emancipation. States like North Carolina prohibited free African Americans from entering their territory. In several states, including Maryland, free blacks convicted on the most minor charges were sold into slavery. In 1858, one free black man in South Carolina was convicted for stealing a pot valued at less than a dollar; he escaped after he was delivered to a slave dealer for sale. In the 1850s, Charleston's free African Americans were forced to wear badges in order to work, and their entrance into the mechanical trades was severely limited. In Washington, D.C., they were subject to curfews and other restrictions. In Charleston and New Orleans, black sailors were imprisoned during the time their ships were in port to prevent them from making contact with local bondspeople. In 1859, South Carolina's legislature established the Committee on the Colored Population, which seriously considered enslaving all the state's free African Americans.
Given these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that many free men and women seriously considered leaving the South. Although some would cast their lot with those advocating immigration to Africa and the West Indies, the overwhelming majority of voluntary migrants moved into established African-American communities in the North.
|The Exodus: Address
by John M. Langston
|United States. Census Office. Statistical view of the United States, embracing its territory, population—white, free colored, and slave—moral and social condition, industry, property, and revenue; the detailed statistics of cities, towns and counties; being a compendium of the seventh census, to which are added the results of every previous census, beginning with 1790, in comparative tables, with explanatory and illustrative notes, based upon the schedules and other official sources of information. By J.D.B. De Bow, superintendent of the United States Census.