Was there an exodus of free Black people from the South on the eve of the Civil War.

ForeverFree

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From the book Slaves Without Masters: the Free Negro in the Antebellum South by Ira Berlin; sorry for typos:

Pages 55-56: This concerns African-Americans who were freed from slavery from the 1790s-1810s; speaks to the challenges faced by free people who had loved ones who were enslaved, and which affected their migration behavior:

Negroes, themselves fresh from bondage, often helped loved ones purchase their liberty. Since most free Negroes were poor, buying the freedom of a friend or relative took years of austere living, and it was not unusual for a free Negro to save for 5 to 10 years in order to liberate a single bondsman. In spite of such obstacles, some free blacks dedicated much of their lives and fortunes to helping others escape bondage. Graham Bell, a Petersburg free Negro, purchased and freed nine slaves between 1792 and 1805...​
In New Bern, North Carolina, John C Stanly, a wealthy free Negro, purchased and emancipated his wife and children in 1805, and two years later he freed his brother-in-law. During the next 11 years, Stanley freed another 18 slaves.​
Other free Negroes, anxious to reunite their family or friends, had not the patience, money, or inclination to buy liberty and instead plotted runaway schemes and aided fugitives. Once free, these blacks did not forget those they left behind.​

- Alan
 

ForeverFree

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From the book Slaves Without Masters: the Free Negro in the Antebellum South by Ira Berlin; sorry for typos:

Page 165-6: This concerns African-American migration behavior, covers the mid-19th century

Migratory patterns affected the growth of the free Negro population, the distribution of free Negroes within the south, and the character of the free Negro caste. 19th century Americans were on the move, pushing their way across the continent, building towns and cities and every junction. Free Negroes too shared this urge to travel, but immigration restrictions often stood in their way whites unwilling to live near free Negroes and every fearful of mobile free Negro revolutionaries had early passed laws to restrict or prohibit free Negro movement.​
Yet the law alone could not stop a determined black emigrant, anymore than it could force manumitted slaves to leave. Far more than restrictive regulations, the free Negroes' precarious, often impoverished situation anchored them to their homes and made them reluctant to emigrate. Ties of home and kin, their reputation with white customers or employers, their familiar daily routine, and their knowledge of the countryside often provided the only security for free Negroes hand in a society that was hostile to their very existence. Fears that these ties might be sundered frightened many blacks; for them any change could only be for the worse.
The friends of one Tennessee free Negro who had been threatened with expulsion from the state vividly depicted the web of relationship that bound free Negroes to the communities in which they lived. He had resided in Nashville "from the time of his youth; where he has toiled with his hands, day after day and year after year; and there are all his associations and feeling-his preferences are there-his attachments are there-he could not live and enjoy life anywhere else." The trauma of breaking these lifelong ties induced some black immigrants to return to the south after they left. So marked was the difference in manner and habits of the people of Ohio," observed one returning Virginia free Negro, that she could not remain "in the least happiness or contentment." Ties of blood and friendship were strong, sometimes too strong."​

Comment: It should be noted that for some southern black people, going up North created a kind of culture shock.

Also note the strong ties of community that are stated here. Of course people of all races experience this. But these kinds of family and community bonds were no doubt made more profound and essential because they offered succor in the face of racial oppression.

- Alan
 
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ForeverFree

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From the book Slaves Without Masters: the Free Negro in the Antebellum South by Ira Berlin; sorry for typos:

Page 173-5: This concerns African-American migration behavior, covers the mid-19th century

Whatever the lure of Africa and the North, most migrating free Negroes did not leave the South. Like whites, they generally moved along parallel lines of latitude in searching for new opportunities. Free Negroes from Virginia and North Carolina tended to migrate to Kentucky and Tennessee, and those from South Carolina and Georgia moved to Alabama and Mississippi.​
But unlike that of white immigrants, the movement of free blacks within the South had a distinct northward thrust. Free Negroes avoided the rich belt of loamy black soil that stretched across Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, which became the heartland of the plantation south. The lower south, except for its cities, attracted few blacks. Free Negroes who bucked the general trend and moved from the Upper to the Lower South often found opposition so intense that they beat a hasty retreat.​
As in the northward migrations, free Negro emigrants generally stopped at the border of the first neighboring state. Border counties in almost every southern state sported a disproportionately large free Negro population. Free Negroes found these borderlines a strategic boon in their endless battle with the law. When one state threatened them, they simply slipped across the state line and waited for the furor to pass.​
Cities were the chief harbors for the free Negro migrants. In the cities, free Negroes found a greater range of economic opportunities and enjoyed a richer social life... Unlike whites or slaves, free Negroes shunned the rich agricultural interior and lived on the periphery of the South. Wherever the plantation culture held sway, few free Negroes could be found.​
The cities that ringed the South were centers of free Negro population.... Although the majority of free Negroes, like the vast majority of southern people, resided in the countryside, free Negroes were the most urban caste in the South. In 1860, better than a third of the free Negro population dwelled in cities or towns, while barely 15% of the weights and about 5% of the slaves lived in urban centers. Free Negroes were more than twice as urban as whites and seven times is urban as slaves. Urban freeman tended to congregate in the larger cities for the same reasons they preferred urban to rural life. More than two-thirds of urban free Negroes lived in cities of 10,000 or more.​

- Alan
 
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ForeverFree

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From the book Slaves Without Masters: the Free Negro in the Antebellum South by Ira Berlin: sorry for typos.

Page 166: This concerns free blacks' migration to the North:

(For) skilled black tradesmen and artisans... the self-esteem generated by their success countered the dismal fear of change (ie, moving to the North) while it magnified the felt oppression of their daily lives (in the South). The belief that things could be different and better often encouraged them to seek a better life elsewhere; from this class came a disproportionate share of the free Negro emigrants.​
But their very success also bound elite free Negroes to the communities in which they resided. Many worked at trades which provided a healthy living in the South, but which white workingman monopolized in the North and which simply did not exist in Africa or elsewhere.​
For such skilled free Negroes, migration often meant a sure loss of economic status. Some southern blacks who went north, like Frederick Douglass, had difficulty finding work at the trades they had practiced in the slaveholding states. Even if they recover their economic position, the prestige that had a crew to it in their old home might not be forthcoming to an outsider. Although they smarted under the lash of oppressive white rule, they two felt a deep love for their southern home.​
Despite the pain and expense of cutting Southern ties, many free Negroes did leave, some gladly. Pulled by the promise of new opportunities and driven by the desire to escape the oppressive presence of slavery, a steady stream of free Negroes migrated North. Generally, poverty forced them to stop at the first free state. In 1850, nearly half the free Negroes in Indiana had been born in the south. By 1860 Negroes born in the south made up more than half of the blacks in Chicago, almost a third of those in Philadelphia, and more than a quarter of those in Boston. By 1860, over 4000 free Negroes had moved to California.​
The steady flow of Negroes into the free states brought the familiar cries for restriction. The border states, partly because of the large Southern born-population and partly because of their propinquity to the South were most fearful of a massive black influx. During the antebellum years, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa limited free Negro entry. Although Ohio, under pressure from abolitionist, eventually repealed its restriction, Illinois and Indiana went on to write the ban on free Negro immigrants into their state constitutions. But northern laws feared know better than southern ones, and a stream of Southern-born blacks continue to move north.​
Comment: The table at post #54 shows the free black population for each state in 1860.

- Alan
 

ForeverFree

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From the book Slaves Without Masters: the Free Negro in the Antebellum South by Ira Berlin: sorry for typos.

Page 168-171: This concerns free blacks' migration to the North:

In the North, blacks were despised and degraded as in the south. Whites usually proscribed them from political rights, barred them from most public institutions, segregated them in others, and limited them to the most menial jobs and the worst housing.​
Still, free Negroes enjoyed a degree of liberty and self-expression unknown in the slaveholding states. The host of black newspapers, the activities of black abolitionists, organized churches, schools, and conventions, all spoke to the differences between the North and the South. No matter how successful a black tradesmen might be in the south, he never dared raise his voice against racial oppression. Although omnipresent racism made a mockery of many of the legal rights of Northern blacks, Southern free blacks who move North generally found a measure of liberty altogether absent in the slave states.​
But many black saw little to distinguish the racism of the North from that of the South. Wealthy blacks who sent their children north for an education often discovered that their well qualified offspring could not find employment in the free states. Without steady work, the benefits of northern freedom dissolved into empty bitterness...​
The exodus to the North and Africa as well as smaller migrations to Canada, the West Indies, and Europe slowed the growth of the Southern free Negro population. During the 19th century, the proportion of American free Negroes living in the South shrank steadily and the center of the free Negro population slowly moved northward... This outward migration stripped the Southern free Negro cast of some of its most talented ambitious and aggressive members.​

- Alan
 

ForeverFree

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The lack of migration showed that they had a home and chose to stay there and thereby continue to be part of their State and the Government that led it. There was nothing to stop them leaving but they simply did not want to as they were content as they could be where they were and that is a conscious decision not one of coercion or force.
I would just note that in these excerpts from the book by Berlin, the State and the Government are described as practically adversarial to black interests. The State and the Government are obstacles that free blacks have to work around or avoid, not entities that are beneficial, trusted, or honorable. The State and Government were not sources of contentment, they were sources of dismay. Of course free blacks in the South were never at liberty to express such feelings, in public anyway. Resistance was not merely futile, it was suicidal.

I wonder what they would say about claims that they were "as content as they could be."

- Alan
 

Quaama

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I would just note that in these excerpts from the book by Berlin, the State and the Government are described as practically adversarial to black interests. The State and the Government are obstacles that free blacks have to work around or avoid, not entities that are beneficial, trusted, or honorable. The State and Government were not sources of contentment, they were sources of dismay. Of course free blacks in the South were never at liberty to express such feelings, in public anyway. Resistance was not merely futile, it was suicidal.

I wonder what they would say about claims that they were "as content as they could be."

- Alan

Then, as they obviously stayed where they were, as the OP asked "If they stayed, why?"

[As I said in Post #55, if I was so discontented "I'd gather up my family and be on the road out of there".]
 

ForeverFree

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Then, as they obviously stayed where they were, as the OP asked "If they stayed, why?"
I've spent some amount of time and effort to explain why they stayed. I've buttressed my own comments with these comments from a well regarded author who wrote a well regarded book on the subject of free blacks in the South. That's the best I can do, maybe others will get it.

[As I said in Post #55, if I was so discontented "I'd gather up my family and be on the road out of there".]
If racial bias was their problem, tell me, where could they go that racism wasn't a problem? Perhaps you have a solution that eluded them.

Let's make believe you could find this magic place that they didn't. Suppose you had a wife who was a a slave, and moving away meant abandoning her. Is that a solution that's going to make you content? Understand, even for even free blacks, there were no fairy tale endings. What you can do today, that's not something a free black person could just do in the 19th century and everything just works out fine. I highly recommend you read these excerpts from Berlin, maybe even buy the book. I think they put a lot of things in their proper perspective.

- Alan
 

CSA Today

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Then, as they obviously stayed where they were, as the OP asked "If they stayed, why?"

[As I said in Post #55, if I was so discontented "I'd gather up my family and be on the road out of there".]
Nowhere to go.
"The justification for such discrimination in the North differed little from that used to defend slavery in the South: Negroes, it was held, constituted a depraved and inferior race which must be kept in its proper place in a white man's society.”
Leon Litwack's North Of Slavery, Preface, p. viii.
 

unionblue

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Nowhere to go.
"The justification for such discrimination in the North differed little from that used to defend slavery in the South: Negroes, it was held, constituted a depraved and inferior race which must be kept in its proper place in a white man's society.”
Leon Litwack's North Of Slavery, Preface, p. viii.

And firmly discouraged not to go.

Slave patrols.
Passes needed for travel.
Slave catchers.
Fugitive Slave Law.
Not permitted to gather in large numbers.
Not permitted firearms.
Dogs used to track and recapture slaves.

Pretty hard to get to the North to experience that 'discrimination.'
 

ForeverFree

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Nowhere to go.
"The justification for such discrimination in the North differed little from that used to defend slavery in the South: Negroes, it was held, constituted a depraved and inferior race which must be kept in its proper place in a white man's society.”
Leon Litwack's North Of Slavery, Preface, p. viii.

There was racial prejudice in the North and South, as we all know. I don't know that Africans Americans found anything celebratory in the idea that both regions had racist behaviors. I think they would be focused on, how does racial bias actually affect me?

Racial bias in the 19th century can be likened to a disease. It was a highly infectious sickness that afflicted just about everybody. Now, if we look at COVID19, we see that not everybody is equally affected by it. The majority who get it have no symptoms or have very mild symptoms. Some get sick, but don't need to be hospitalized. Some do need to hospitalized, their symptoms are so severe. And then, some die.

The most virulent strain of 19th century racial bias was in the slave states. In those states, by 1860, 3.9 million people were enslaved and commodified. They were ruled by masters who held them as property and controlled their social and economic life. This deprivation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness certainly met the definition of despotism as noted in the Declaration of Independence.

That strain was basically eradicated in the Northern USA by 1860.

Less vicious, but still debilitating, was the anti-citizenship strain seen in both the Northern and Southern USA. People of African descent were non-citizens who were degraded and disenfranchised. They were deprived of the rights, privligies, and opportunities that free whites enjoyed, but they were not subject to commodification and mastery.

African Americans were clearly better off with this second strain, which was endemic in the USA. But that doesn't mean this was a "good" or beneficial strain of racial prejudice. It was rather that, things could be much worse.

Some whites were exposed to the disease of racism but were not adversely affected. Notably, a counter-strain called abolitionism emerged in the US. This counter-strain eradicated slavery in the Northern USA from the 1770s to the 1840s. This was an important accomplishment. But this counter-strain did not spread to the South, and many in the North considered it dangerous - "fanaticism," for example.

Few people in 1860, black or white, Northern or Southern, thought that this disease would whither, even with a war. I would not say it was unthinkable; more like, unreasonable. Even the US president and US Congress declared early on that the intent of the war was not to end slavery, and certainly, citizenship rights for Negroes were not on the table. Freedom and citizenship were impossible dreams.

The war came, and became an unexpected antidote to the virulent strain. Abraham Lincoln would say that "slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest" that "all knew" "was, somehow, the cause of the war." He would go on to say, "Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease." The end of slavery was, for those fighting the dreaded disease, a dream come true wrapped in a nightmare of death and destruction.

Unfortunately, the strain that constrained free blacks in the South and the North did not die. The worst symptoms were eliminated, but the underlying disease remained. You could not run from it, it was everywhere. But there is still the dream, and people work on antidotes and vaccines everyday.

- Alan
 
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CSA Today

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And firmly discouraged not to go.

Slave patrols.
Passes needed for travel.
Slave catchers.
Fugitive Slave Law.
Not permitted to gather in large numbers.
Not permitted firearms.
Dogs used to track and recapture slaves.

Pretty hard to get to the North to experience that 'discrimination.'
But then again there weren't that many slaves in the North by the mid 19th century, most blacks had been sold south to Cuba or Puerto Rico by then.

"The justification for such discrimination in the North differed little from that used to defend slavery in the South: Negroes, it was held, constituted a depraved and inferior race which must be kept in its proper place in a white man's society.”
Leon Litwack's North Of Slavery, Preface, p. viii.
 

DanSBHawk

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But then again there weren't that many slaves in the North by the mid 19th century, most blacks had been sold south to Cuba or Puerto Rico by then.

"The justification for such discrimination in the North differed little from that used to defend slavery in the South: Negroes, it was held, constituted a depraved and inferior race which must be kept in its proper place in a white man's society.”
Leon Litwack's North Of Slavery, Preface, p. viii.
As has been shown in this thread, there were more free blacks in the loyal states than in the seceded states.
 

unionblue

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But then again there weren't that many slaves in the North by the mid 19th century, most blacks had been sold south to Cuba or Puerto Rico by then.

"The justification for such discrimination in the North differed little from that used to defend slavery in the South: Negroes, it was held, constituted a depraved and inferior race which must be kept in its proper place in a white man's society.”
Leon Litwack's North Of Slavery, Preface, p. viii.

I wasn't aware that the North had slave patrols or written passes to travel. Racism for sure and yes, some blacks were sold South before some Northern states got rid of the institution.

Again, how fortunate there was a ready, growing, almost hungry market for slaves being sold South.

As for your quote, to be considered depraved and inferior to actual enslavement does point to a rather dramatic difference between the North and the South, would you not agree?
 

DanSBHawk

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Goodness me, I thought your point was that several "loyal" slave states not only substantially increased the number of free blacks in the old union but assured their better treatment.
No, but that's a good thought for an author to investigate. The correlation between slaves per capita and secession shows that the states most invested in slavery seceded first. Perhaps the loyal slave states did treat free blacks better than the disloyal slave states. Since the disloyal slave states were obviously more committed to white supremacy, it's possible that the loyal slave states treated free blacks better.
 
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