A Law Used To Keep The Enslaved Down

Illustration of enslaved people
William Anderson
November 26, 2020

When the dust from the Stono Rebellion settled, white people were terrified – and furious. The rebellion consisted of enslaved runaways marching from South Carolina to Florida, killing slave owners along the way before they were ultimately stopped. 

Whites wanted to make sure this couldn’t happen again.

The Security Act, which required white men to carry guns on Sundays in order to police enslaved Africans, may have sparked the rebellion. But a new, harsher law would come after – one that changed absolutely everything.

Decades after the passage of the first formal slave code in 1690, which borrowed from statutes in Barbados, the South Carolina Negro Act of 1740 was a slave code that codified white supremacy in some of the most despicable ways.

The Negro Act criminalized Black literacy and education, controlled what they wore, how they assembled, and even prohibited Black music. Furthermore, it criminalized Black self-defense and made killing a Black person simply a misdemeanor! It was highly influential outside of South Carolina, too.

And it still matters.

Policing every aspect of Black life still goes on to this day. History is there to tell us how we got here, but we must acknowledge the ongoing legacy of white supremacy as well. 

We’ve been fighting racist laws and policing from slave codes, to Black Codes, to Jim Crow laws, to now!

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