In the Deep South, racism against African Americans was fueled by the tensions between Northerners, who were victorious in calling for the freedom of slaves, and Southerners who wanted to keep Blacks under their rule. In 1865, a delegation of Blacks met in the city of Charleston in South Carolina at the Zion Church on this day to discuss how they would best position themselves in a post-emancipation society. The 52 delegates gathered for the “Colored State Convention” at the church shared ways to fight for equal rights and to repeal the oppressive “Black Codes” law.
“Black Codes” were laws enacted after the Civil War that limited the freedom and migration efforts of African Americans who were looking to escape the looming presence of slavery’s past. With the U.S. Constitution originally holding Blacks in poor favor in both the North and South, the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery.
Not surprisingly, the new amendment would promptly be met with resistance in the form of Black Code laws.
The former slave states would create the codes to keep Blacks in a subjugated position throughout the South. In the states of South Carolina, Mississippi, and Texas, the codes were elaborately worded creeds that kept Blacks bound to a phantom form of slavery.
In response, for nearly a week the delegates gathered at the protest convention and later delivered an eloquent address on November 24th that was styled much like the Declaration of Independence.
Simply put, Blacks in the South wanted to be seen as more than slaves and property and claim their right to full citizenship under the constitutional law:
We feel that the justness of our cause is sufficient apology for our course at this time. Heretofore we have had no avenues opened to us or our children—we have had no firesides that we could call our own; none of those incentives to work for the development of our minds and the aggrandizement of our race in common with other people.
The measures which have been adopted for the development of White men’s children have been denied to us and ours. The laws which have made White men great have degraded us, because we were colored, and because we were reduced to chattel slavery. But now that we are freemen, now that we have been lifted up by the providence of God to manhood, we have resolved to come forward, and, like MEN, speak and act for ourselves.
Standing out toward the end of the address are the words:
We simply desire that we shall be recognized as men; that we have no obstructions placed in our way; that the same laws which govern White men shall direct colored men.
These early seeds of prideful but justifiable defiance clearly highlight that African Americans were not sitting idly by. The will that it took to endure not only the divisive and racist environment of the time while still remaining dignified is quite inspiring to say the very least.
Watch what our people endured with the Black Codes law here: