Why Did Free Blacks Stay in the Old South?

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Why Did Free Blacks Stay in the Old South?

Thread with the same title did not discuss the article very much. Why Did Free Blacks Stay in the Old South?
Hopefully, we can discuss the article. Emphasis mine.

So, Why Did They Stay? Uncertainty and family were two reasons.

One of the most important reasons Free Negroes stayed in the South, Berlin suggests, was uncertainty: They couldn't be so sure things would be better for them in the North. In many cases they were right, especially in states that restricted the admission of free blacks, among them Ohio, Iowa, Indiana and Illinois (the last two in their state constitutions). Interestingly, an antebellum case from Massachusetts, Roberts v. Boston(1849), upholding segregation in Boston's public schools, was cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in its dreaded 1896 opinion reinforcing Jim Crow segregation, Plessy v. Ferguson. Even though the Massachusetts decision was later overruled by legislative action, the point was made. "In the North," Berlin writes, "blacks were despised and degraded as in the South." (For more, see James and Lois Horton's invaluable book, In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community and Protest among Northern Free Blacks, 1700-1860).
But comparative dread was not the only reason that most free blacks remained in the South. At the top of the list was family unity. After all, when a slave family was split up, often the free members remained close, attempting to raise the funds needed to buy the remaining members of the family. They built churches in their communities, so they worshipped, and worked, in proximity with family members and friends who were still slaves, sometimes even in the same fields and workshops. And while they "were not a revolutionary caste," according to Berlin, many did what they could to "help individual slaves to ease the burden of bondage or escape it altogether."​
 

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Why Did Free Blacks Stay in the Old South?

Urban locations offered opportunities to Free Blacks.

Another reason they stayed: economic opportunity. While most free blacks in the South remained tied to the land, a number, especially in cities, acquired skills that allowed them to earn and own property as artisans and craftsmen. Over time, some trades became so associated with free blacks that they were known as "****** trades," Berlin writes. On those trades free blacks had a virtual lock, in part because whites didn't want the work or because blacks were willing to accept cheaper wages for it (often to compete with slaves). In Richmond, Va., in 1860, for example, Berlin shows that there were 174 skilled free blacks, and of those, 19 percent were barbers, 16 percent were plasterers and another 16 percent were carpenters (others included blacksmiths, shoemakers and bricklayers). In Charleston, S.C., in the same year, there were 404 skilled free black craftsmen, dominated by carpenters (33 percent). Working-class whites, especially immigrants, resented them, with some refusing to work by their side. Of course, of all places of work in the South, Berlin reminds us, "Brothels were perhaps the most integrated."
As happened in many places and times, threatened people simply are more terrified of the unknown terror than the known terror.
In some ways, it seemed, the more that white Southerners (especially those who found it impossible to reconcile the presence of free blacks with their defense of slavery as a "positive-good") pushed for solutions to their free black population "problem," the more free blacks clung to home out of defiance. "Terrified by the unknown," Berlin writes, "free blacks resigned themselves to the familiar oppressions of their homeland. Frequently they pleaded with local officials for permission to remain where they had long resided, and sometimes they simply ignored the law and settled on worthless, abandoned land near their former master's plantation. Some even refused to leave the old homestead and adamantly claimed it as their rightful home despite the stunned objections of their former owners."​
Free Blacks moved around, often away from former masters and looking for more friendlier governments.
This does not mean they always stayed put. In fact, early on, Berlin shows, blacks manumitted by their owners preferred changing their names and often tried to move away to start new lives. They also "voted with their feet" within the South by migrating back and forth over bordering state lines depending on which government offered a friendlier climate. In a few remarkable cases, blacks in the North even moved into the South, including New Orleans, for economic opportunity (you can imagine how this infuriated white government officials). But don't be deceived, Berlin warns. The pull blacks felt toward greater degrees of freedom was real — to the North, including all the way to Canada, and to the South, including the swamps of Florida (see Amazing Fact No. 15, "Where Was the 1st Underground Railroad?"). Over time, this created a "brain drain" that saw some of the South's most talented free blacks leave for leadership opportunities outside the region.​
 

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Why Did Free Blacks Stay in the Old South?
Business, as usual, helped the Free Blacks to survive and multiply.

Those who stayed were reminded constantly that whites would never be comfortable with their presence — or, at the same time, be able to let go of such a comparatively cheap labor supply. This push-pull continued through the antebellum period, so that every time it seemed the anti-free black lobby was about to legislate a final solution of deportation to the North, colonization in Africa, the Caribbean or South America, or re-enslavement, the business community prevailed in retaining the status quo. (In many ways, this anticipated the various sides of the immigration debate today.) "The inability to subjugate free Negroes frustrated whites and incited harsher repression, but still the free Negroes remained," Berlin writes. "And they multiplied."​
 

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Why Did Free Blacks Stay in the Old South?

In the Family

Making laws is one thing, but when they interfered with business enforcement became lax.

As the sectional crisis intensified in the 1850s, so, too, did whites' fury at their increasingly confident and politically conscious free black populations, but if Berlin's detailed account proves anything, it is that there was and would always be a huge gap between the laws as written on the books and those that operated on the ground. Not only were many whites lax in enforcing their states' black codes, free blacks themselves were nimble, they were resistant, they continued to live where they wanted to live, and when secession finally spilled over in 1860, a majority of them still called the South home.​
Stricter black codes were passed
All of this was the case with my Bruce, Redman and Clifford ancestors (on both my mother's and my father's lines), Free Negroes who remained in Virginia despite the General Assembly's warning that any slaves emancipated after May 1, 1806, would face possible re-enslavement if they stayed in-state longer than a year. Those who wanted to remain in the state beyond this grace year saw petitioning the legislature as the only way to make this possible, and so petition they did. Actually, because my Clifford and Redman fourth-great grandparents had been freed long before this 1806 cutoff date, they and their descendants, living about 30 miles from where I was born, could continue to live as freed people in the state, free of this new necessity of petitioning.​
Joe and Sarah Bruce (the third set of my free fourth-great grandparents) and their children weren't as fortunate, however. Following the Nat Turner Rebellion in 1830, the Virginia General Assembly passed a slew of stricter black codes. Joe and Sarah were freed in their master's will in 1823, and were granted permission to remain in the state until the master's wife died, which she did in 1840. But they had no desire to move to the North, especially since the master's wife deeded them a thousand acres of land in her will. But in the aftermath of Nat Turner's Rebellion, the laws changed.​

 

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Why Did Free Blacks Stay in the Old South?

As Eva Sheppard Wolf, a professor at San Francisco State University and an expert on this very subject, explains in Race and Liberty in the New Nation:

The legislature's final act regarding Virginia's African American population in 1832 — in fact the only legislation actually passed — was to amend the black code in order (whites hoped) to make future insurrections less likely. The new law barred black Virginians from preaching, placed tighter restrictions on the movements and assembly of slaves, and prescribed harsh punishments for anyone who promoted slave rebellion. The law also further reduced free blacks toward the status of slaves by requiring that they be tried in the slave courts (courts of oyer and terminer) in cases of larceny or felony instead of before a regular judge and jury and by barring them from owning guns (earlier laws allowed free people of color to own guns if they had a license, which was not required for whites). Important for the future of manumission in Virginia, the law also made it illegal for free people of color to purchase slaves except immediate family members, thus reducing the ability of the free black community to help enslaved fellow African Americans attain liberty. Surely this provision underscores the legislature's interest in preventing rather than encouraging emancipation.
As if all this wasn't enough, the Virginia legislature did (at least) one more thing to tighten the screws on its free black population after Nat Turner. Amending the state's original 1806 "get out or risk re-enslavement" law, the legislature in 1831 gave local sheriffs the authority to sell free black people at auction. A "slight amendment," Joan W. Peters writes in her introduction to the 1995 edition of June Guild's Blacks Laws of Virginia (1936), but soon the legislature was so flooded with new petitions to remain from free blacks and their white employers that in 1837 it redirected the process to the county courts
Cheap labor seems to be trumps.
 

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Why Did Free Blacks Stay in the Old South?

To my amazement, my third-great grandfather Charles Bruce's family appears twice in Guild's book (and I'm most grateful to the genealogist Jane Ailes and to Frances Pollard of the Virginia Historical Society for helping me track this all down; references to my family's petitions can also be found in the Library of Virginia's online database of Free Negro petitioners). From what I can tell, they made their first petition to stay in 1833 after a fellow citizen of Hardy County accused them of remaining in the state past their time. The Virginia legislature granted their petition but only until one year after Abraham's widow Elizabeth died. Of course, "The permit may be revoked," the legislature added, "if any of the persons of color are convicted by a jury of an offense."

So they stayed, and when Elizabeth Van Meter died, my third-great grandfather Charles and nine members of his family petitioned again, to stay indefinitely. In December 1841, they were denied and instead given only another "four years to dispose of the estate" that Elizabeth had willed to them — I guess that's how long Virginia thought it would take for them to sell off a thousand acres of land! Remarkable to me is that whatever limited time Virginia gave my Bruce ancestors, they never left the Old Dominion, except of course when their farm in Hardy County, Va., became part of the new Northern state of West Virginia in June of 1863.

By then, the Civil War was in full swing. But to them, just as for most of the other Free Negroes at the time, home was home. What is also counterintuitive is the fact that, for all those years in between Elizabeth Van Meter's death and the war, countless white neighbors ignored the law as well, refusing to inform on my great-great-great grandfather's family or enforce the law all those miles away from Richmond. To read more about these particular African American Lives, as detailed in my PBS television series, follow the trail to PBS.org.
 

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Why Did Free Blacks Stay in the Old South?
History like the people it is about can be complex.

Even if, as was reported by Salon, the South today is more racist than the North (at least in making political decisions), this is not necessarily an outgrowth from some mythic (or monochromatic) past defined by absolute slave and free states, Southern and Northern. Rather, these lingering attitudes stem from sources far more complicated and blurred than that simple dichotomy on which my generation was raised. The complex truth of American history, as Joel A. Rogers was so determined to show us, was never simply black and white.​
 

JPK Huson 1863

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I sincerely hope not to side track into becoming simple because it's the community aspect I'd have guessed first, on reading OP. Theirs was so hard won and we just don't remember ( well, quite a few of us were born early enough who do- by ' we ' I mean our country ) what community meant.

Yes, thanks for the thread. An awful lot of work here, goodness! Too frequently we're separated further by what my head refers to as clumping. This clump of people did that, another is responsible for this- and whomever is generalizing to absurd degrees is almost never willing to recognize anything else.
 

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Poor White Immigrants were pushing Blacks out of the Artisian jobs in the North. Whites didn’t want to compete with Free Blacks, so Racial Attitudes got more hostile after Emancipation. Happened in the North. So, after Emancipation living conditions actually got worse for a time period. This happened in the North, will happen after Emancipation in the South.
 

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Poor White Immigrants were pushing Blacks out of the Artisian jobs in the North. Whites didn’t want to compete with Free Blacks, so Racial Attitudes got more hostile after Emancipation. Happened in the North. So, after Emancipation living conditions actually got worse for a time period. This happened in the North, will happen after Emancipation in the South.
I'm sorry... but was there a point so far expressed w/ references as the O.P. has put forth which you wish to respond to? Or is this merely lashing out...so to speak?
 

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I'm sorry... but was there a point so far expressed w/ references as the O.P. has put forth which you wish to respond to? Or is this merely lashing out...so to speak?
Maybe this will help you?

Segregation in complete and fully developed form did grow up contemporaneously with slavery, but not in its midst. One of the strangest things about the career of Jim Crow was the system was born in the North and reached an advanced age before moving South in force. Without forgetting evils peculiar to the South, one might consider Northern conditions with profit.
By 1830 slavery was virtually abolished by one means or another throughout the North, with only about 3500 Negros remaining in bondage in the nominally free states. No sectional comparison of race relations should be made without full regard for this difference. The Northern free Negro enjoyed obvious advantages over the Southern slave. His freedom was circumscribed in many ways, as we shall see, but he could not be bought or sold, or separated from his family, or legally made to work without compensation. He was also to some extent free to agitate, organize, and petition to advance his cause and improve his lot.

For all that, the Northern Negro was made painfully and constantly aware that he lived in a society dedicated to the doctrine of white supremacy and Negro inferiority. The major political parties, whatever their position on slavery, and extremely few politicians of importance dared question them. Their constituencies firmly believed that the Negroes were incapable of being assimilated politically, socially, or physically into white society. They made sure in numerous was that the Negro understood his "place" and that he was severely confined to it. One of these ways was segregation, and with the backing of legal and extra-legal codes, the system permeated all aspects of Negro life in the free states by 1860.

Leon F Litwack, in his authoritative account, North of Slavery, describes the system in full development. "In virtually every phase of existence,' he writes, "Negroes found themselves systematically separated from whites. They were either excluded from railway cars, omnibuses, stagecoaches, and steamboats or assigned to special "Jim Crow" sections: they sat , when permitted, in secluded and remote corners of theaters and lecture halls; then could not enter most hotels, restaurants, and resorts, except as servants: they prayed in "Negro pews" in the white churches, and if partaking of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, they waited until the whites had been served the bread and wine. Moreover, they were often educated in segregated schools, punished in segregated prisons, nursed in segregated hospitals, and buried in segregated cemeteries.' . . .

Generally speaking, the farther west the Negro went in the free states the harsher he found the proscription and segregation. Indiana, Illinois, and Oregon incorporated in their constitutions provisions restricting the admission of Negroes to their borders, and most states carved form the old Northwest Territory either barred Negroes in some degree or required that they post bond guaranteeing good behavior. Alexis de Tocqueville was amazed at the depth of racial bias he encountered in the North. 'The prejudice of race,' he wrote, 'appears to be stronger in the states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists; and nowhere is it so intolerant as in those states where servitude has never been known.'

By the eve of the Civil War the North had sharply defined its position on white supremacy, Negro subordination, and racial segregation. The political party that in accord with this position, and Abraham Lincoln as its foremost spokesman was on record with repeated endorsements. He knew the feelings of 'the great mass of white people' on Negroes. 'A universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, can not be safely disregarded. We can not, then, make them equals. 'In 1858 he had elaborated this view. 'I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races [applause]-that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people, and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the black and white races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.'

It is clear that when its victory was complete and the tame came, the North was not in the best possible position to instruct the South, either by precedent and example, or force of conviction, on the implementation of what eventually became one of the professed war aims of the Union cause--racial equality. pp17-21 The Strange Career of Jim Crow by Woodward

There was no welcoming mat to the North for the Negro. The Free States elected a President who vowed to protect Whites Interest. At the Exclusion of the Black.
 

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Maybe this will help you?

Segregation in complete and fully developed form did grow up contemporaneously with slavery, but not in its midst. One of the strangest things about the career of Jim Crow was the system was born in the North and reached an advanced age before moving South in force. Without forgetting evils peculiar to the South, one might consider Northern conditions with profit.
By 1830 slavery was virtually abolished by one means or another throughout the North, with only about 3500 Negros remaining in bondage in the nominally free states. No sectional comparison of race relations should be made without full regard for this difference. The Northern free Negro enjoyed obvious advantages over the Southern slave. His freedom was circumscribed in many ways, as we shall see, but he could not be bought or sold, or separated from his family, or legally made to work without compensation. He was also to some extent free to agitate, organize, and petition to advance his cause and improve his lot.

For all that, the Northern Negro was made painfully and constantly aware that he lived in a society dedicated to the doctrine of white supremacy and Negro inferiority. The major political parties, whatever their position on slavery, and extremely few politicians of importance dared question them. Their constituencies firmly believed that the Negroes were incapable of being assimilated politically, socially, or physically into white society. They made sure in numerous was that the Negro understood his "place" and that he was severely confined to it. One of these ways was segregation, and with the backing of legal and extra-legal codes, the system permeated all aspects of Negro life in the free states by 1860.

Leon F Litwack, in his authoritative account, North of Slavery, describes the system in full development. "In virtually every phase of existence,' he writes, "Negroes found themselves systematically separated from whites. They were either excluded from railway cars, omnibuses, stagecoaches, and steamboats or assigned to special "Jim Crow" sections: they sat , when permitted, in secluded and remote corners of theaters and lecture halls; then could not enter most hotels, restaurants, and resorts, except as servants: they prayed in "Negro pews" in the white churches, and if partaking of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, they waited until the whites had been served the bread and wine. Moreover, they were often educated in segregated schools, punished in segregated prisons, nursed in segregated hospitals, and buried in segregated cemeteries.' . . .

Generally speaking, the farther west the Negro went in the free states the harsher he found the proscription and segregation. Indiana, Illinois, and Oregon incorporated in their constitutions provisions restricting the admission of Negroes to their borders, and most states carved form the old Northwest Territory either barred Negroes in some degree or required that they post bond guaranteeing good behavior. Alexis de Tocqueville was amazed at the depth of racial bias he encountered in the North. 'The prejudice of race,' he wrote, 'appears to be stronger in the states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists; and nowhere is it so intolerant as in those states where servitude has never been known.'

By the eve of the Civil War the North had sharply defined its position on white supremacy, Negro subordination, and racial segregation. The political party that in accord with this position, and Abraham Lincoln as its foremost spokesman was on record with repeated endorsements. He knew the feelings of 'the great mass of white people' on Negroes. 'A universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, can not be safely disregarded. We can not, then, make them equals. 'In 1858 he had elaborated this view. 'I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races [applause]-that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people, and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the black and white races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.'

It is clear that when its victory was complete and the tame came, the North was not in the best possible position to instruct the South, either by precedent and example, or force of conviction, on the implementation of what eventually became one of the professed war aims of the Union cause--racial equality. pp17-21 The Strange Career of Jim Crow by Woodward

There was no welcoming mat to the North for the Negro. The Free States elected a President who vowed to protect Whites Interest. At the Exclusion of the Black.
Thank You as I thought. More of the same. Selective cherry picking.

Edit: took ya long enough.
 

uaskme

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The new racism created new fissures within black society. Among the black people most affected were the "Old Knickerbockers," the name which scions of the black elite took to distinguish themselves from the new arrivals. Marcy Sacks explicates their complex reactions both to the intensification of racial proscription and to the former slaves' presence in New York, New York's black elite, whose parents had battled for abolition before Southern Emancipation and had supported the Radical Reconstruction of the South, believing "the elevation of former slaves would provide a corresponding improvement in their own civic condition," suddenly objected to the presence of former slaves in their midst. For many Old Knickerbockers, the poverty of the new arrivals had caused the upsurge of racial animosity, threatening their position. Some criticized the immigrants' country ways, work ethic, and emotional religion, and hoped they would just go away. Others drawing on their old tradition of uplift, tried to tutor the newcomers in the niceties of urban life. But neither the back of the hand nor the outstretched hand was received by the new arrivals, who liked their lives the way they were. Differences among black New Yorkers would continue to fester in years to come, as the South continued to come North. pp27 Slavery in New York by New York Historical Society

Even Northern blacks rejected Southern blacks.
 

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African Americans struggled in freedom. Contrary to contemporary popular opinion, innate deficiencies did not keep blacks poor, estranged, and disenfranchised, but the efforts of prejudiced whites did. Immigrant workers from Britian and Ireland supplanted blacks in the workplace, leaving African Americans the most miserable tasks in the city had to offer, like sweeping chimneys and emptying privies. White workers generally denied black men and women places in the nascent white labor movement. Despite the external obstacles to blacks economic mobility, many New Yorkers viewed African Americans as an ongoing source of moral decay and political corruption. In 1821, Modecai Noah, editor of the popular National Avocate, declared white democracy, Blacks could not appreciate the right to vote; among them, the franchise was "a mere vendible article." available for sale to every corrupt political boss in the city. pp139 Slavery in New York by New-York Historical Society
 



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