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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

BLACK LAWS - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

The BLACK LAWS were a series of early 19th-century restrictions on Cleveland's black citizens imposed by the Ohio state constitution of 1802 and by state law. Growing antislavery sentiment in the WESTERN RESERVE caused most of these laws to be repealed before the Civil War. Like other Northwest Territory states, Ohio was influenced by southern attitudes toward race. Though slavery was not permitted, Ohio blacks (see AFRICAN AMERICANS) could not vote, testify in court against whites, hold office, or serve in the state militia (see BLACK MILITARY UNITS). Further legislation required blacks to file a $500 bond before settling in the state and to register their certificates of freedom in the county clerk's office before getting a job, and barred them from serving jury duty. Blacks were not permitted in the public school system until 1848, when a law was passed that permitted communities to establish segregated schools.

While certificate and bond filing were loosely enforced, other laws were at first strictly followed in Cleveland, as well as the rest of Ohio. By the 1830s, however, as the Western Reserve became a hotbed of reform and ABOLITIONISM, local attitudes shifted. Cleveland and other northeastern Ohio towns became stopping points on the Underground Railroad to Canada. While this activism hardly signified universal acceptance of racial equality, by 1838 the CUYAHOGA COUNTY ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY pressured legislators to promote repeal of the black laws. Within 12 years that was accomplished through area Free-Soil legislators. Cuyahoga County delegates blocked antiblack provisions from the 1851 constitution and in 1867 promoted Negro suffrage, which was defeated by Ohio voters.

Meier, August, and Elliott Rudwick. From Plantation to Ghetto (1976).

Last Modified: 10 Jul 1997 11:15:17 AM

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