On This Day in 1859, Arkansas Laws Make Free Blacks Leave Or Become Slaves
On this day in Black History in 1859, the Arkansas General Assembly passed a bill that banned the residency of free African Americans and Mulatto people anywhere within the bounds of Arkansas.
This bill required free Black people to leave the state by January 1, 1860, or face sale into slavery for a period of one year. Proceeds from their labor would go to finance their relocation out of the state. At the time, about 700 free black people lived in Arkansas, less than in any other slave state.
In 1846, the Statutes of Arkansas had legally defined mulatto as anyone who had one grandparent who was Negro. "Free Negros" were categorized as “black” in the 1850 U.S. Census, so historians have adopted the term “free black” to refer to Negroes AND mulattoes who were not enslaved. A person’s color was very important to law makers in Arkansas, as slavery was based on race. Since there was no scientific or medical way to prove a person with fair skin was white or black, in any dispute, the courts normally depended on testimony of neighbors to determine color or race.