Thursday, June 5, 2003

Ohio Moments


Black Laws cast pall over state

On June 5, 1804, the Ohio General Assembly required, through the newly established Black Laws, that every African-American who lived or worked in the state prove his or her status as a free person.

Slavery had been made illegal in Ohio's Constitution. But according to the Black Laws, all black persons had to prove, with papers issued by a court of law, that they were not slaves. They had to present their proof to a clerk and pay 121/2 cents for a certificate of freedom. No employer could hire an African-American who did not possess a certificate on penalty of a fine between $10 and $50.

Anyone harboring a fugitive slave could also be fined, and sheriffs and constables who arrested and returned slaves found in the state were rewarded.

The laws were expanded in 1807, requiring African-Americans to pay a $500 bond guaranteeing their good behavior and obtaining the signatures of two whites on a voucher.

These laws rendered operation of the Underground Railroad a risky business - for blacks and whites.

Under the laws, blacks could not serve in the militia, attend common schools or testify against whites in court.

The last of the Black Laws were removed in 1848.

- Rebecca Goodman

E-mail rgoodman@enquirer.com, or call 768-8361.




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