How did free African Americans fight for civil rights during the slavery era?

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Answered by: Calvin, An Expert in the Civil Rights Struggles and Successes Category
Free African Americans in the slavery era faced many hardships. Discrimination remained the most prominent. Segregation and exclusion marginalized African Americans in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois while restricting access to jobs, living, and voting. This was all done under pressure by the white community and, in combination with legal restrictions, created a toxic atmosphere.



African Americans were far more likely to be arrested and convicted for a crime. They were not allowed to serve on juries and vote in most of the free states. Only five states had black suffrage for men in 1860 – Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. This discrimination took a much more malevolent form with race riots. Philadelphia saw riots in 1820, 1829, 1834, 1835, 1838, 1842, and 1849 which left many dead and caused flight from the city. These types of riots also occurred in Cincinnati in 1829 and 1841. Such blatant racism and violence negatively affected free American Americans' jobs situation. Between 1820 and 1860 white immigrants were allocated the skilled labor jobs in the country and the status of African Americans in the north further declined.

Despite such hardships, African Americans met these challenges with solutions of their own. Some lifted themselves out of poverty by growing a small business – as the Forten family did in Philadelphia. His family advocated the idea of uplift which forwarded the notion of black self-help. Mutual aid societies such as male lodges and fraternal order and their female auxiliaries helped keep black communities together. An example was the Colored Orphan Asylum in New York City which provided education, apprenticeships, and job opportunities. African American schools, although off to a troubled and stunted start, began in most populist cities. The New York Free School had more than fourteen hundred students. Two women, Sarah Mapps Douglas and Maria Stewart, worked with moral reform to improve the lives of black women. They called for the end of prostitution and for improved treatment of the mentally ill and prisoners.



All this work culminated in a black convention movement called for by the Bishop Richard Allen in 1835. Its importance stretched beyond just those who attended them, they helped create a sense of black identity for African Americans throughout the country. While not completely successful in meeting the challenges, faced with such rampant racism and discrimination, free African Americans were able to create a sense of community that strived for greater civil rights.

In addition to helping those in the north, there were those who actively worked towards freeing slaves in the south and in western territories. Frederick Douglass published his autobiography in 1845 and quickly entered the national conscience. He then went on speaking tours advocating for abolition. Sojourner Truth was another black abolitionist who won over supporter with her moral persuasion. Newspaper publications advocated for the cause too. Douglas published a newspaper The North Star from 1847 to 1851 and in 1827 Russworm and Cornish published Freedom's Journal. Between 1830 and 1860 there were more than forty black abolition newspapers published. These papers were commonly passed from hand to hand and gained wide support and influence across the country.

Free African Americans had a crucial role in advocating for their own civil rights in the slavery era. They are the spiritual forefathers of the 20th century movement whose leaders drew much inspiration from. Without them, the level of civil liberties and rights enjoyed by all today would not be possible.

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