Arson and the long war on black progress

Emanuel-churchElias Rodriques at n+1:

IN THE EARLY 1800S, they called them hush harbors: as in, “Don’t tell anyone.” Mentioning their existence, much less their location, could invite violence. Congregations were signs of conspiracy.

White southerners passed slave laws that prohibited black gatherings without white supervision, including congregating at church, out of fear of revolution. They did so at different times in different states. In 1723, Virginia explicitly outlawed black assembly. In 1800, South Carolina prohibited slave assemblies without whites. The church, refuge for many slaves, seemed for whites the most potent symbol of potential insurrection.

The specter of slave rebellions inspired the first burning of the “Mother Emanuel” African Methodist Church in Charleston in 1822. According to trial documents, Denmark Vesey, a free black carpenter, hatched the idea of a revolt in the church. He organized members of the congregation and got them to spread the word to their families. Thousands of slaves, from Charleston to the countryside of South Carolina, pledged to join the revolution. They planned to capture weapons from a Charleston weapon store, burn down the city, board ships in the harbor, and sail to newly liberated Haiti.

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