27. Illinois Black Law (1853)

Background: In 1819, the state legislature passed the first of what were known as "Black Laws," which were discriminatory laws that denied free African-Americans some of the basic rights of citizenship. Similar laws had been passed when Illinois was a territory and the legislature would expand the laws several times over the coming years. Black Laws restricted African-American emigration into Illinois and prohibited African-Americans from serving on juries or in the militia. In 1848, Illinois voters approved a new state Constitution that required the state legislature to prohibit African-Americans from moving to Illinois. The legislature did not act until 1853, when Democratic state representative John A. Logan of downstate Murphysboro introduced legislation to enact the Constitutional requirements. Although African-Americans and others protested, the legislature passed the 1853 Black Law and it went into effect on February 12 of that year. In 1865, the state legislature repealed most of the Black Laws, although discrimination would continue to exist.

The Document: The 1853 Black Law passed in Illinois was considered the harshest of all discriminatory Black Laws passed by Northern states before the Civil War. The bill banned African-American emigration into Illinois. If a free African-American entered Illinois, he or she had to leave within 10 days or face a misdemeanor charge with heavy fines. Subsequent violations led to increased fines. If the fine could not be paid, the law authorized the county sheriff to sell the free African-American's labor to the lowest bidder, essentially turning the violator into a slave. If a fine was imposed, whoever reported the African-American was entitled to receive half of it. The law included harsh penalties for anyone who brought slaves into the state, whether they wanted to free them or not. The law also included penalties to Justices of the Peace who refused prosecute the law.

Note: The sponsor of this law, John A. Logan, changed his views after serving as a Union general in the Civil War. He became a leading proponent of African-American rights and a hero to the Illinois African-American community. This public act is available at the Illinois State Archives as part of Secretary of State Record Series 103.030, "Enrolled Acts of the General Assembly."