‘Till Justice Be Carried out’ examines first civil rights motion – Florida Courier



Review of “Until Justice Is Done: America’s First Civil Rights Movement, From Revolution to Reconstruction” by Kate Masur. WW Norton & Company. 448 pages. $ 32.

In an 11-page pamphlet published in 1813 entitled “A Man of Color’s Letters on Late Senate Bill in Pennsylvania,” James Forten, a Philadelphia free black man, explained the egalitarian principles of the Declaration of Independence “Indians and Europeans.” , the savage and the saint, the Peruvian and the Laplander, the white man and the African “.

A bill that would force all blacks to register with the state would require police officers to “arrest any black man, be it a vagabond or a serious man who cannot produce a certificate.”

The Senate did not pass the law. However, other “free states” have enacted laws against blacks.

Fortens Protest, Kate Masur (Professor of History at Northwestern University and author of “A Nationwide Example: Emancipation and the Struggle for Equality in Washington, DC”) reminds us of issues that are central to the struggle against it Racism was important in the decades before the civil war.

Support of racial equality

In “Until Justice Is Done,” Masur examines the demands of African Americans and their allies for the same rights and legal protections granted to whites. The first civil rights movement, which is often overlooked, helped make its vision of equality mainstream, according to Masur.

Masur discusses the activities, known to historians, of the abolitionists of the garrisons, the short-lived Liberty Party and the Free-Soil Party, as well as the Republican Party, who spoke out against the expansion of slavery to the territories acquired by the United States in the Mexican War.

Many members of these predominantly white groups supported racial equality and an end to human servitude.

Arrest of soldiers

Masur is also investigating lesser-known controversies, particularly the arrest of free black seafarers who unload goods in southern ports. The action was justified within the police powers of each state.

For example, Luke Thompson, a Maine seaman, was jailed in New Orleans for his “Protection Certificate” stating that his eyes were “black” while local authorities considered them “light”.

According to Masur, Thompson might have struggled hard work on a chain win or would have been sold into slavery if Boston attorney Ellis Gray Loring hadn’t shown that the certificate’s description of a scar on his head proved that he was that he claimed to be.

“Privileges and Immunities”

Masur emphasizes that black civil rights activists “push for more equality and faster” than their white counterparts.

They refused to vote and entered the political conversation by petitioning the lawmakers and the United States Congress. They retained American citizenship and cited the “privileges and immunities” clause of the constitution.

They protested publicly despite the likelihood of retaliation and violence.

When the four or five hundred black community in Zanesville, Ohio started an anti-slavery society, the residents were fired, Masur writes. Whites they worked for were prosecuted under vandalism laws for their employment.

Elsewhere, anti-abolitionist mobs have stabbed, shot and burned the homes of the “humble” black people.

keep fighting

Even so, many of them refused to withdraw or give up.

“Together with other citizens, we have rights that are important to us,” declared the Freedom Journal in 1828. “We will never sit patiently … without protesting the unconstitutionality of all laws that tend to them in the slightest to prune. ” . ”

At a meeting in Syracuse, New York, in 1864, African American delegates insisted: “It is clear that prejudice should not be given a voice in relation to government, the object of which is the protection and security of human rights. ”

Unfortunately, although the civil war ended slavery, it did not end racial prejudice. And in the last three decades of the 19th century, the 14th and 15th amendments to the constitution were gutted by the Supreme Court.

Masur concludes, however, that while antebellum activists in the US did not ensure racial equality, the civil rights movement “repeated and expanded its agenda” in the mid-20th century.

Among the lessons Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. learned from the brave reformers of “Until Justice Is Done” is that while morality cannot be regulated, conduct can be regulated … the law cannot make a man make him love me, but it can stop him from lynching me … the law can’t change the heart, but it can hold back the heartless. “

Dr. Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He wrote this review for the Florida Courier.


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