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Scripto | Transcribe Page
Proceedings of the State Convention of the Colored Men of the State of Ohio, Held in the City of Columbus, January 21st, 22d and 23d, 1857.
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Fellow citizen, we invite your attention for a moment to the statutes which been passed, infringing on our rights.
On the 5th of January, 1805, a law was passed regulating the condition of a legal residence of blacks and mulattoes. Who its author was, or where he lived, we are not advised; for if we where we would communicate the information for the benefit of the reading public; but one thing we do know, the bill was characterized by great barbarity. Here are a few specimens:
"Blacks or mulattoes shall first produce a fair certificate from some court within the United States, of his or her actual freedom." Failing to have or produce such certificate, any person who gave such an individual work was subject to a penalty of "not less than ten nor more than fifty dollars."
The 4th section says that if any resident shall harbor, secrete or feed "any black or mulatto person, the property of any person whatever, or in anywise hinder or prevent the lawful owner or owners from retaking and possessing his or her black or mulatto servant or servants, shall, on conviction therefore, be fined not less than fifty nor more than one hundred dollars."
So the General Assembly, by this act, constituted the people of Ohio an organized band of kidnappers. In 1807 this law was amended, and a black or mulatto person required, before he or she could obtain a legal residence in the State, to give bond and security in the sum of five hundred dollars for their good behavior; and they were also prevented in the same act from testifying in any case where a white person was a party concerned.
Now any jail bird, of a white skin or Saxon origin, could insult with impunity a colored lady, and if brought into Court to answer, all the prosecuting attorney would have to do would be to enter a nolle prosequi, and the case would be dismissed. We might give you many reminiscences of the workings of the testimony law, but we forbear; one instance will suffice for the present:
In the summer of of 1846-7, a colored man killed another in a melee at Cincinnati. The murderer was a quadroon, and the murdered man a pure black of the deepest African dye. The case came up for hearing in the Criminal Court of Hamilton County, and the witnesses were black and mulatto persons. The counsel for the defense objected to negro testimony against the prisoner, which was sustained, and the culprit went unwhipped of justice. George E. Pugh--now Senator Pugh--was a counsellor in the case, and he planted himself from that hour against the law, and was a member of the Assembly when it was repealed, and voted for it. These laws were in force forty-two years, (1807 to 1849,) when they were repealed by a mixed Legislature of Whigs, Democrats and Free Soilers.
In 1831-2, acts were created for the relief [of] the poor in the several Counties of the State, and we confess that we cannot see how those laws and the amendatory acts passed since, strictly construed could or can deprive a lawful resident of the benefit of the Poor Fund; but, by some strange interpretation, colored persons have been and are excluded. We know something of the effects of this law, for some of us happened once to be on a committee to get certain persons of color in the Poor House of Hamilton County. We were debarred at every office door, and told by the gentlemen who held the keys that the law would not allow them to admit niggers, and that they would not do it. We turned from them more in sorrow than in anger; for we felt there was need of a mission at Cincinnati. Colored persons are excluded from all the public institutions of the State for the benefit of the insane, blind, deaf and dumb, and until recently they were not permitted to enter on a visit. We beg pardon, for there is one institution wherein we are admitted, but not on terms of equality--we mean the Penitentiary. No colored man can be a juryman. It is a principle of common law that a person charged with crime is entitled to a fair hearing by a jury of his peers. How can a colored person get such a hearing. Juryman generally have no association with him--no sympathy in common with him--and have been taught from infancy to hate and despise him. Doubtless if the poor slaves who have been slaughtered, quartered, their heads put on posts as a terror to their brethren in chains, for a mere suspicion to rebel or revolt against unlawful authority, could have been tried by a jury of their peers, not one out of the many would have suffered.
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