It will come as a surprise to many in white America that ethnic cleansing is not something that is peculiar to Nazi Germany, Rwanda or Bosnia. American history shows that many communities here are guilty of it too. These communities banished their black citizens…often violently. Many of these communities remain virtually all white to this day. Brothers Charles and James Brown traced their family tree to Pierce City, Missouri and learned their ancestors had been forced out at gunpoint. Marco Williams produced a documentary titled Banished…How Whites Drove Blacks Out Of Town in America.
For decades after the 14th Amendment was ratified, and continuing well into the 20th century, America’s blacks suffered insidious discrimination that came in many forms. One of the most humiliating was “Sundown Towns” part of what was called our “hidden history.” Sundown towns were those communities that systematically excluded blacks from those communities after dark. There is still some evidence them. James Loewen, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Vermont has researched the issue extensively, and is the author of Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, the first book ever written on the subject.
During the years immediately following Reconstruction, 1879 and 1880, there was a massive migration of former slaves from the South north to Kansas. Kansas was a common destination because it was a free state, it welcomed settlement by people of all races, and held symbolic importance as the home state of abolitionist John Brown. It was an “exodus” and the migrants who participated were called “Exodusters.” More than forty thousand mostly poor, uneducated southern blacks migrated to Kansas. Half of them came through St. Louis where they were aided by the local African American community and largely reviled by the white St. Louis civic and political establishment. It was all chronicled in the book The African American Community and the Exodusters, written by Professor Bryan Jack of Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina.
There is a back story to the Dred Scott decision. New information reveals that Harriet Scott, who was involved in the original suit for freedom with her husband, lived for a decade after the Civil War. The Scotts had two children. Eliza and Lizzie were given the protection of anonymity during the
fractious period during which the Scotts sought emancipation. Genealogist Ruth Ann Hager of the St. Louis County Library, did the research which is outlined in her book Dred and Harriet Scott…Their Family Story.
The Dred Scott decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857 was the culmination of more than a decade of litigation to win their freedom by slaves Dred and Harriet Scott. The legal battle began in St. Louis where the Scotts won an initial victory. However, the verdict was appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, where the ruling went against the Scotts. Some brilliant legal maneuvering brought the case to America’s highest court, where the institution of slavery was upheld by denying Dred Scott rights of citizenship. The final ruling laid some of the groundwork for the Civil War and forever put St. Louis in the forefront of any discussion on civil rights. Our contributors have closely studied the Scott case. David Konig is Professor of History and Law at Washington University, and John Baugh is professor of African American Studies, also of Washington University.