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The 'Separate But Equal' Concept in US Segregation

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Human Rights
Wordcount: 2526 words Published: 5th Aug 2019

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America: A Separate But Equal Country

Part 1: The Event

In 1793, a group of federal laws enforced by the Unites States Congress legalized the capture and return of runaway slaves. This was due to pressure from the South, a strong supporter of slavery, who debated that the controversy of slavery was creating a divide between the newly created states. In my paper I plan to inform and expose the truth that America is and never was established upon equality or equal opportunity. Hence the phrase, “separate but equal” referring to the 1896 court case which allowed state racial segregation. This phrase is a contradiction in its self, because it is virtually impossible for a nation to be racially segregated and provide equal opportunity at the same time. To support my argument I will be utilizing the 1793 and 1850 Fugitive Slave Acts. These cynical laws contributed to the unfair establishment of America.

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Originally, the first statues regarding refugee slaves in America began as early as 1643. However, in 1705, New York passed regulations designed to prevent runaway slaves from seeking freedom in Canada. Maryland and Virginia also made laws granting bounties for the abduction and restoration of slaves to their owners. This was only the beginning of more regulations to come. Article IV, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution was enacted in 1793 which allowed any court or federal judge to conclude the fate of an alleged fugitive slave, without a jury trial. Although this new regulation was mostly favored by the South, it was met with extreme opposition from the North. This law raised an enormous role in raising controversy between the North and the South, more than there already was. With this law, followed many underlying regulations as well, such as the $500 penalty that could be enforced on anyone who assisted or harbored escaped slaves (Britannica). Also, many Northerners argued that they did not want their states infected with malicious bounty hunters and that America has merely legalized the kidnapping of innocent human beings. This concept of capturing runaway slaves quickly led to the kidnapping of free blacks that ended up being sold into slavery. Just ask Solomon Northup, a free black man who was fortunately not born a slave. But during 1841 in Washington D.C., Northup was forcefully kidnapped and sold into slavery. He then spent 12 years of his life as a slave in Louisiana before rightfully gaining back his freedom in 1853. However, many slaves chose not to let this law scare them from running away. By the beginning and mid-1800s, thousands of slaves had been reported missing. Many slaves had encountered the famous Underground Railroad which allowed them to seek exemption in slave-free states. In aid for the slaves, the North constructed personal liberty laws which granted fugitive slave laws the right to a jury trial just like every other U.S. citizen. Inevitably, the North’s cries to repeal this law were ignored again while the South’s desire for more effective and strict legislation was closely listened to. Thus leading to the Second Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

Transitioning from bad to worse, the Second Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was enacted. This law continued to uphold the same regulation that slaves could not have a trial by jury, however now slaves’ right to testify on their own behalf was revoked from them. Also, harsh penalties were placed upon federal marshals who chose to disregard the law. The fine for meddling with the proceedings of a runaway slave, increased to $1,000 and at least six months in jail. In order to preserve the statues placed, individual cases were transferred to federal judges and commissioners. Their salaries also increased and were sometimes given promotions for sending a suspected slave back to the plantation rather than allowing them their freedom. Many Northerners argued that this regulation was obviously placed in favor of the South. States such as Vermont and Wisconsin developed advanced adjustments intended to circumvent and invalidate the law. Abolitionists also joined the movement and increased in size more than ever. They continued to assist runaway slaves and protest their right to a fair trial. Not only did slaves gain more support, the Underground Railroad reached its culminate in the 1850s due to an abundance of slaves retreating to Canada to escape U.S. jurisdiction (History.com). The South lost approximately 100,000 slaves during the Fugitive Save Laws Era. Many Southerners and anti-abolitionists opposed the Underground Railroad. “In 1786, George Washington complained about how one of his slaves had escaped by the help of a society of Quakers who were formed for such purposes.” (pbs.org). Although there was a large amount of fugitive slaves, attempting to escape from the plantations was extremely difficult and sometimes even fatal. In order for a slave to successfully escape, they needed to have good knowledge of the land and an efficient sense of direction along with being resourceful. Usually, they needed to navigate north because that is where the secret passage would lead them to Canada. Next, the perfect time to plan and execute the escape would have been at night due to the lack of light and the fact that everyone was asleep. However, the slaves still would’ve had the pesky task of trying to avoid merciless slave hunters and slave masters that would quickly return them back. Furthermore, to make themselves hidden from the public eyes, slaves needed money to buy proper clothing that didn’t look shabby and torn, so they could travel around the city without attracting too much attention. The money they obtained to buy clothes and other necessities to travel were donated by abolitionist groups and raised vigilant communities. These groups included heroes such as Harriet Tubman. Tubman was a brave woman who made 19 consecutive trips to the South and guided over 300 slaves to freedom and redemption (civilwaremancipation.wordpress.com).

In late June of 1864, something happened that shook the nation. Congress repealed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. This was due to the widespread controversy that was causing a divide in the country. Congress saw no reason to continue upholding the laws considering it was almost impossible to enforce them in certain Northern states. The use of the Underground Railroad had also greatly contributed to the influx of runaway slaves and the decrease of slaves being returned. Therefore, the North’s efforts to abolish slavery had finally overcome the South’s desire to keep it. “In repealing the Fugitive Slave Law, Congress was in essence telling slaveholders that they would no longer enjoy the police power of the federal government.” (civilwaremancipation.wordpress.com). This act of repealing the cynical law, initiated the final transition to the ratification of the 13th Amendment and permanently terminating slavery in America.

Part 2: Personal Context

As a black and Hispanic teenage woman in America, I have experienced a multitude of things that I am quite sure a white person would not face. To start off my brother and I were raised by a single mother in Miami. Both my brother’s father and my father abandoned us at very young ages. But isn’t that the traditional start of every black kid’s childhood? Being incorporated with the working class, depending on food stamps and monthly child support checks- it’s all repetitive really. Frankly, I am tired of trying to explain the corruption of these systems that are set up to break black families. Also, I would prefer not to be just another sob story. Currently, I am a waitress at Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, I get paid $2.40 an hour and I rely solely on tips as my source of income. I enrolled and paid for college on my own as well. I am where I am today because of me, not my father. Unfortunately, most blacks cannot say this because like me, they are not given the same advantages as white children. As early as elementary school, black children are profiled and stereotyped before they can even prove their intelligence and talents. One would like to believe that the end of slavery would’ve completely wiped out discrimination against blacks too- but it didn’t. My boyfriend and I cannot even drive at night without being afraid of getting pulled over by the police. We aren’t even safe in our own neighborhood. For instance, two nights ago I was driving down L. Don Dodson Road when a police car began following me from the intersection of the street. Considering I was driving the speed limit and my car wasn’t violating any safety regulations, the police car proceeded to follow me to my boyfriend’s apartment without his lights on. Once we arrived to his apartment the officer stepped out of the car and stopped us from entering the apartment building and began interrogating us. “Where are you guys coming from? Do you live around here? What is the address to these apartments? I’m going to need to see some ID.” In fear of further problems, we respectfully answered his questions and complied. Although encounters with the police have become quite familiar to me, they never seems to cease the terror in my heart that I could easily become another hashtag due to profiling and police brutality.

Part 3: Historical Relevance

Aligning the two, the concepts within slavery and profiling are similar but have two vast differences. The end of the Fugitive Slave Laws and slavery is still a big step towards equality for black people. However, it has negatively shaped America today. Slavery formed the ideas and stereotypes that follow black people everywhere they go. Some stereotypes include big lips, an obsession with fried chicken, being illiterate and fatherless, and the false idea that all black people are African. Although slavery is dead, these ignorant stereotypes never vanished. These stereotypes are portrayed through profiling from law enforcement, not giving black children equal education, and using punishment instead of corrective teaching to guide black students.

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It is surreal to imagine a world where my ancestors weren’t enslaved and where racism would be a foreign concept. If slavery never existed, I would be living a completely different life.  I would not be afraid to be out at night in fear of the police, nor would my brothers be falsely incarcerated, my boyfriend wouldn’t be classified as a thug due to the color of his skin, and I would be able to truly express myself without being classified as another angry black woman. More black people would be given equal opportunity within the workforce, wouldn’t be on the backend of the educational system, and would be given the ability to prove their worth.

The reason why I believe that racism wouldn’t be as abundant if slavery never existed, is because I believe that racism derives from slavery. Think about it, slaves weren’t regarded as human beings at all- barely even property. Animals were given better treatment than what my people received. In 1863, there was a slave by the name of Gordon who ran away from his master in Mississippi by covering himself with onions to be undetected by vicious bloodhounds. Gordon was famously known for the horrific photograph taken of his back. The picture taken by an abolitionist group, was also known as, “The Scourged Back” (nytimes.com). The pain inducing photograph displays Gordon sitting in a wooden chair with his back facing the camera. His back is shown with dozens of protruding and swelling scars from constantly being whipped by his old slave master. Cases like Gordon’s support my belief that majority of racism and black discrimination originates from how whites degraded blacks when they were slaves.

In addition, it is virtually impossible for myself, being a black woman, to imagine supporting an inhumane and degrading social institution such as slavery. That would mean I condone the abuse and mistreatment of myself and my own people.. My brothers and sisters who were enslaved and chose to defy the system by running away, taught me that freedom and equality is worth risking your life for. The Fugitive Slave Acts were just one of many obstacles that America has used to suppress black people’s rights.

Another aspect in which slavery and its laws has impacted my life is that it has enforced the American caste system that everyone is undoubtedly intertwined with. This strictly established system maintains a false white superiority and black inferiority. This concept is even placed through the fashion and entertainment industry. The industry supports this system while appropriating black culture, language, fashion, and music. Regularly, I am asked, “Wow! Can I touch your hair?” NO, you cannot touch my hair because I am a person not an animal with exotic features. This question has presented itself to me constantly along with my profound anger when I see a white girl in dreads or with box braids. This is infamously known as cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is, “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture” (Cambridge University Dictionary). Although it may seem like a harmless act, it is completely hypocritical. It makes my stomach churn because it is not right that white people can easily adopt back culture and styles whenever they please. But they do not study the history behind it nor respect our culture! Nonetheless, if I walk into an interview with dreads, I would automatically get turned down for not appearing professional enough and for looking “dirty”. On the contrary, if a white girl has dreads she is trendy and hipster. It’s a weak double standard that affects me daily.

Although slavery structured the racist concepts and ideas within society today, the Fugitive Slave Laws definitely worsened the quality of life I have due to the imposed stereotypes and hatred bestowed upon me and my family.

Works Cited

  • Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Fugitive Slave Acts.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 17 Jan. 2018, www.britannica.com/event/Fugitive-Slave-Acts. Web.  Accessed 3 Nov. 2018.
  • Cambridge University Dictionary www.dictionary.cambridge.org Web. Accessed 8 Nov. 2018.
  • “Civil War Emancipation” World Press, 27 June 2014, www.cwemancipation.worldpress.com Web. Accessed 7 Nov. 2018.
  • Gage, John Paulson. “A Slave Named Gordon”. New York Times Review, Sunday Book Review, 30 Sept. 2009, www.nytimes.com Web. Accessed 7 Nov. 2018.
  • “Fugitive Slave Acts.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2 Dec. 2009, www.history.com/topics/black-history/fugitive-slave-acts. Web. Accessed 27 Oct. 2018.
  • “The Underground Railroad” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2944.html. Web. Accessed 3 Nov. 2018.


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