Ohio Enacts “Black Laws”

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From the African American Registry

On this date in 1804, “Black Laws” were enacted in the state of Ohio.

Just one year after winning statehood, Ohio became the first to issue Black Laws. Soon many other states, including Northern states like Illinois, followed suit.

Just one year after winning statehood, Ohio became the first to issue Black Laws. Soon many other states, including Northern states like Illinois, followed suit.

The Congress of the Buckeye state became the first legislative body in the country to enact Black Laws, intended to restrict the rights of free blacks.

Two groups supported the measure: white settlers from Kentucky and Virginia, and a growing group of businessmen who had ties to southern slavery. All of them despised blacks. The legislation forced blacks and mulattoes to furnish certificates of freedom from a court in the United States before they could settle in Ohio. All black residents had to register with the names of their children by June 1, 1805. The registration fee was 12 and a half cents per name.

It became a punishable offense to employ a black person who could not present a certificate of freedom. Anyone harboring or helping fugitive slaves was fined $1,000, with the informer receiving half of the fine. On January 25, 1807, these laws were toughened and other states followed Ohio’s lead. The Black Laws remained in effect until 1849.

To read the text of the original Black Laws, click here

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