After Slavery: Educator Resources

Exhibit Splash Image

10. Freedpeople Petition for the Removal of a Trial Justice

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Six: Pursuing Citizenship: Justice & Equality in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

As evident in so many of the documents included in this unit, the clash between freed slaves anxious to claim their rights as citizens under the new order and their adversaries, equally determined to deny them these rights, was frequently played out on a local level. The following petition, signed by nearly 250 former slaves and their allies, was submitted to South Carolina Governor Robert K. Scott in 1869. It shows just how bitter the confrontation at the local level could become, and demonstrates in some detail the relationship between seemingly local issues and the wider struggle to leave behind the legal inequities that had been fundamental in upholding slavery. The lag between federal legislative gains and the effects that these produced on the ground in small and intimate communities was often frustrating for freedpeople looking for palpable evidence that their lives had changed for the better.

Freedpeople Petition for the Removal of a Trial Justice

[Simon Lucas, the magistrate in St. Thomas Parish near Charleston] is guilty of proceeding in every case in which there is an opportunity the same as during the existence of Slavery, in so much that notwithstanding the great number of cases which must have been adjudged by him during his apparently infinite Tyranny here, there is not a single instance when one of our White Brethren have been duly punished for any Crime Committed against a Colored Person.

And there are colored Men who are this day dwelling in the lovely Forest...being afraid to enter the Household and in order to keep out of the reach of his Tyrannical Decrees, it is an ordinary occurrence for him to proceed against Colored Persons in open violation of the Constitution and Laws... he is in the habit of incarcerating Colored citizens under Constables at his Private Residence for weeks, whenever there is no possible Pretext for Committing them to prison. He is Guilty of intimidating uninformed colored people by means of threats etc. in order to make them sign Papers the Contents of which is opposite to their interest, and Contrarily explained to them. He is Guilty of unlawfully ejecting Colored People from Plantations, at any season of the year, regardless of contracts, causing them to leave the whole benefit of their Labor to be kept without recompense [from] their more fortunate employers. He not only protects Crime by refusing to execute the Laws upon Citizens alike for similar Offenses but actually obstructs the Laws by his unlawful interference with every case taken jurisdiction of by the newly appointed Magistrate in this Parish, in which a White Person was concerned. He violates the Civil Rights Bill regardless of the Law of Our Legislature to enforce it. He has escaped so long with impunity that He has now grown Cold and Defiant in his injustice, and is now guilty of the most Palpable wrong. He is an Aristocratic Atheist, and is therefore disqualified to hold Office under the Constitution of South Carolina.

We are the Loyal People, both to the state and United States. And in this instance have borne with forbearance so much that Patience, has now ceased to be a virtue, And your humble Petitioners having waited long but in vain for relief, was Compelled to resort to this mode of Calling upon Your Excellency in this [request] to exercise your Executive Authority in Our behalf, to the end that Simon Lucas Jr. may be removed from the Office of magistrate. The people St. Thomas Parish know that They are Free, and in order that They may experience the benefit of...their Voting, of their Labor, and their Freedom [ask that he be removed].

Jon Selfridge and 248 signatures

Source: Petition from Jon Selfridge and 248 others to Governor Robert K. Scott (June 19, 1869) Governor Scott Papers, South Carolina Department of Archives and History


Questions to Consider

  1. How likely is it that the Governor of South Carolina would have received a petition like this during the period before the Civil War? What has changed in freedpeople's understanding of the government's obligation to uphold their rights, and why is this significant?

  2. In what specific ways do the petitioners consider magistrate Lucas's actions to be reminiscent of legal inequities "under slavery"? Does Lucas seem to have resigned himself to the new order brought about by emancipation? What can Scott do to protect the petitioner's rights? What considerations might he bear in mind in deciding a course of action?

  3. The petitioners accuse Lucas not only of violating rights himself but of obstructing justice by denying the newly-appointed magistrate the right to rule in certain cases. Why might he do this?

  4. Why do the petitioners refer to their "right to experience the benefit of...their Labor" in asking that Lucas be removed? In what way is he depriving them of this?

Return to Exhibition: Unit Six