Lois Leveen


April 17, 2012

You’re free. As in, free to go.

The good news: you're free. The (potentially) bad news: as in free to leave the country.

Today's Civil War fact: The law that emancipated DC slaves compensated owners $300 per slave. It also offered those former slaves $100 each to emigrate.

It's one of the sharpest examples of the racism of many (though certainly not all) white abolitionists, who might have objected to slavery as an institution but were not quite up for accepting blacks as equal citizens of the United States. The colonization movement mostly focused on sending former slaves to Liberia, although the DC law didn't specify where a former slave had to go.

From the perspective of free blacks--whether newly freed or whether born free to free parents--emigration was more complicated. Some free blacks chose, even without any compensation, to move to Liberia, or to Haiti or Canada. Why? Because even in states were slavery was illegal, discrimination was not. Schools, jobs, housing, public transit, the right to vote--any of that might be denied to someone purely based on race. In some cases, well into the second half of the twentieth century.
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