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1850s - African Americans During the Gold Rush

Once more slaveholders and slaves began coming to California during the Gold Rush, the question was asked: Should slavery be legal in California? Only about 200 or 300 slaves worked in the fields, but many others accompanied their families on mining trips, or were fugitives who hoped to start their life over. The topic became increasingly popular, and brought about plenty of discussion in the White House. After a six month long debate, it was decided under the Compromise of 1850 that California would be admitted into the Union on the terms of the states' delegates. After California became tired of waiting for the verdict, they decided that slavery would not be allowed. This was on the terms that it would bring an unfair advantage in the mines. Finally, it had been decided that California would be a free state.

Throughout the next three years of the Gold Rush, slaves and other African Americans were hopeful for a better community and the promise of freedom. Despite this hope, racism was prominent, and one large problem emerging was that African Americans were denied rights in court. Since African Americans could not testify for another African American or a white citizen without a white witness, many beatings, robberies, and sexual assaults went without justice. Any bills or petitions that went to state legislatures were overruled, despite large numbers of signatures and signs of support.

Yet another example of the racism towards African Americans during the Gold Rush is the Fugitive Slave Bill. In 1852, Henry A. Crabb introduced this bill, which was then turned into a law, despite heavy opposition. This law did not clearly state the boundaries in which it could be interpreted, and did close to nothing to protect African Americans' rights. After the Fugitive Slave bill, many slaveholders attempted to capture free African Americans and claim them as their property. If no freedom papers could be presented, no matter what the other evidence provided, then the African American was handed to the slaveholder. As a result, many institutions began to recognize the unfair treatment of African Americans, and used the North as an example of a just society. In fact, African Americans were soon gaining supporters, primarily in San Francisco and Sacramento, yet it still was not enough.

By 1855 a drastic change was needed, thus the First Colored Convention held its first meeting. The purpose of this meeting was to address the social conflict between African Americans, slave or free, and the rest of the Californian population. Delegates from 10 of California's 29 counties attended this meeting. Ultimately, those involved in the meeting discussed the fact that blacks were being treated as second class citizens, and that whites were able to get away with assaulting African Americans, since they could not testify in courts. Also, the meeting touched on education, and how it was not fair that African American children could not receive an education because of the color of their skin. This passionate meeting resulted in the Executive Committee, whose job was to pursue political equality in the state of California. The Executive Committee was a major step towards improving the lives of African Americans.


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