When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could issue laws governing how fugitive slave cases were handled, Michigan passed two laws known as the “Personal Liberty Laws.” Act 162 provided accused African Americans the right to a trial by jury and the writ of habeas corpus. It also penalized slave catchers who accused free persons of color of being fugitives. Act 163 prohibited sheriffs from holding accused runaways in common jails and aiding slave catchers.
The Modern English Collection at the University of Virginia includes an African American Collection. This collection spans the late eighteenth through twentieth century, with the bulk of material in the mid to late nineteenth century. Notable authors include Phillis Wheatley, Booker T. Washington, Maya Angelou, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Nat Turner. The collection features poems, speeches, Civil War letters and historical documents, all pertaining to African American textual history.
The Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University in Washington, DC, is one of the world’s most extensive repositories documenting the global history and cultures of people of African descent. The Research Center’s website contains a dynamic and interactive exhibit of “Virtual Treasures,” including digitized resources from the period of U.S. Slavery and the Civil War to nineteenth century African American newspapers through the Civil Rights era. Of note is also the collection’s focus on materials pertaining to the African diaspora outside of the United States. Users to the website can access the MSRC catalog, and browse manuscript and archival collections.
Nat Turner’s Rebellion, also known as the Southampton Insurrection, sent waves of terror throughout the South. On August 21, 1831 Turner led nearly sixty men in a revolt that left fifty-five white Virginians dead. Fifty-six slaves were executed for participating and nearly two hundred more were injured and killed by angry white mobs. Turner evaded capture for six weeks before confessing and standing trial. He was executed on November 11, 1831.
In 1830, black leaders in New York and Philadelphia organized the National Negro Convention. Delegates attending the four-day convention established the American Society of Free Persons of Colour and vowed to work to achieve freedom and equality for African Americans. The National Negro Convention reconvened annually in various cities until 1864.
The National Parks Service has produced an electronic educational tool called "Network to Freedom" which explores the national sites that were a part of the Underground Railroad.
The New York Committee of Vigilance first convened on November 20, 1835. Founding members, including David Ruggles, vowed to protect and defend African Americans from injustice and help those seeking freedom obtain it. The committee’s success inspired the creation of similar vigilance committees in Michigan, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
The Congress of the Confederation drafted the Northwest Ordinance while participants of the Constitutional Convention were writing the Constitution. The ordinance pertained to land northwest of the Ohio River and created Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. It banned slavery in new territories, but in doing so set the precedent for fugitive slave laws.
In 1858, slave catcher Anderson D. Jennings arrived in Oberlin, Ohio in search of fugitive slaves. Recognizing a man named John Price, he arrested Price on behalf of John Bacon, a Kentucky slave owner, and held him at a tavern in nearby Wellington. News of Price’s arrest spread quickly and more than 50 people gathered to rescue him. Federal authorities immediately sought to punish all who participated in the raid. A grand jury in Cleveland issued warrants for 37 rescuers but only 14 appeared in court on December 8, 1958. The trials began the following spring and gained national attention.
Oberlin, Ohio was a center of abolitionist and Underground Railroad activity. Reverend John Jay Shipherd founded Oberlin in 1833 at the height of the Second Great Awakening. Oberlin Collegiate Institute attracted intellectuals and theologians to the town, allowing Oberlin to be a haven for abolitionists and slaves seeking freedom. Several aspects of life in Oberlin were integrated: white and black children attended school together, African American residents could vote locally and attend Oberlin Collegiate. Estimates suggest that 3,000 formerly enslaved people found refuge in the small town.