Racial Violence


Fugitives fighting off slave catchers

Border States along the Ohio River did not want to become a haven for African Americans.  Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio all enacted Black Laws making black immigration onerous.  All three states required free blacks to pay a bond of $500 and register to ensure “. . . against their menacing the community by their unsecured presence.”[1]  Free blacks needed to carry freedom papers everywhere; if caught without them they faced jail.  The law placed the burden of proof on African Americans.  If someone could not prove they were free, they were sold into slavery.  By 1851, Indiana prohibited black migration completely.[2] 


runaway ad 3.jpg

Runaway Slave advertisement

Louisville’s periodic police round ups, found blacks guilty of “illegal migration” and forced them leave the state or sold them to New Orleans slave dealers.[3]  Daily life for African Americans included low wages, frequent arrests, and beatings on both sides of the Ohio River.  Violence against blacks stemmed from white anger towards unemployment.  Whites blamed fugitive slave migration and the settlement of African Americans.  Several riots in Cincinnati forced the African American community to defend themselves.  In 1829, hundreds of white citizens attacked the black community for three days.[4]  In July 1862, two hundred whites attacked the black communities around New Albany, Indiana.  The attack lasted for thirty hours and resulted in deaths from both races.[5]  In both cities, African American populations declined after riots.


Local newspapers encouraged anti-black sentiment and reported on the degenerate black populations.  The Louisville Public Advertiser reported in 1835, “. . . we are over-run with free negroes. . . most of them have no ostensible means of obtaining a living . . . their impudence naturally attracted attention of slaves and necessarily becomes contagious . . . We do believe prompt measure to drive the vagrant Negros from among us . . . to preserve order and insure perfect subordinations are necessary to our security.”[6] New Albany Daily Ledger editor, John Norman led anti-black sentiment in Southern Indiana.  Norman continuously printed negative news further perpetuating the “menace to society” attitude towards blacks.  News reports instigated prejudice and violence by blaming African Americans for the unemployment rates.[7]  It did not matter than most whites refused to work alongside African Americans and they could only find jobs whites refused to accept.   

[1] (Trotter 1998) 35 (black codes) and (Griffler 2004) 31-32

[2] The Exclusion Act would not be repealed until 1881. (Trotter 1998) 25.

[3] Blain Hudson, “Crossing the Dark Line,” Filson Club Quarterly 75 (2001): 33

[4] (Griffler 2004) 54.

[5] (Peters 2001) 24

[6] Blain Hudson, “Crossing the Dark Line,” Filson Club Quarterly 75 (2001): 39.

[7] (Peters 2001) 17-19.