California's State Law Ensured That Black People Would Never Be Truly Free

pile of gold
Alyssa Guznik
February 6, 2023

The California gold rush was supposed to be a time of prosperity. California was a “free” state and Black people were beyond slavery’s reach. At least, that was what Carter Perkins, Robert Perkins, and Sandy Jones believed.

They arrived in California as enslaved men during the gold rush. When their enslaver lost his fortune, he returned to Mississippi and left the trio with a friend who granted them their freedom after six months of servitude. As free men, the three created a booming business and amassed today’s equivalent of $100,000.

California’s Fugitive Slave act of 1852 decreed that anyone who entered their land enslaved would remain the property of the person they accompanied. This set the stage to ruin everything.

Their enslaver wanted his property and, subsequently, “his” money back. To their credit, the lawyers for the men took the case to California’s supreme court, but without success. The men were set to return to Mississippi via steamboat.

Perkins, Perkins, and Jones escaped their fate somewhere in Panama, but what made them truly free is that they questioned and fought against anything, including the law, that threatened their freedom.

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