Desperate Resistance

By John Sullivan/November 22, 2020

Next in our series of unknown civil-rights pioneers, this one goes wayyy back to New Orleans, 1833. It’s Rosa Parks but on a train and with pistols. These protesters are “free persons of color,” meaning they were legally free (having been manumitted or self-emancipated or born to free parents) yet remained by choice in the slave society of the antebellum South. From early on and for obvious reasons this community chafed against the injustices of that world. Racist whites bore free-Black people a special hatred—here the writer calls them “these pests of the slave states”—in part because their very presence pointed up the absurdity of the racial ideology on which the slave system was shakily based. The date is significant: 1833, just after the Nat Turner uprising. All over the South restrictions on the rights of free-Black citizens were lurching into effect. The increased tensions that resulted may have helped to cause the scene described here. There appear to survive no copies of the New Orleans Commercial Bulletin for 1833. This paraphrase of the incident, from The People’s Press and Daily Wilmington Advertiser, from August 28, 1833, seems to represent the only trace.