top of page

The History of Oppression

Early American History – Slaves Shipped to U.S.

Slavery in America


Slavery existed in the United States before it was a country. In 1619, the first American slaves were brought by English settlers to a colony in Virginia called Jamestown.


After the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), the United States became a free country. However, Black slaves did not gain their freedom, even though the U.S. Constitution said:


All men are created equal.



Slaves were brought to America to help with the production of crops, such as tobacco. Slavery was practiced throughout the colonies and slaves helped create the economic foundation of the new nation. By the mid- 1800’s, America’s westward expansion, along with a growing abolition movement in the North, would spark an argument over slavery that would tear the nation with the American Civil War between the North and South.

Local Indiana History

3/5 Compromise

A slave was to be counted as only three-fifths of a person.


A compromise reached between the southern and northern states during the 1787 United States Constitutional Convention. The Three-Fifths Compromise allowed a state to count three-fifths of each slave in determining political representation in the House of Representatives. In other words, a slave was to be counted as only three-fifths of a person in representation of a population.

Indiana was settled in the late 1700’s and was a state by 1816. Some settlers from the South brought slaves with them even though slavery was illegal in Indiana.


Compromise of 1850


A group of five bills passed in the United States which softened a four-year confrontation between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North. The compromise was in regards to the status of territories acquired during the Mexican-American War. The biggest gain came for the South, which was a stronger Fugitive Slave Act, which angered the Northern public opinion.

Fugitive Slave Act


This law made it illegal to help slaves escape. It also forced captured slaves to be returned to the South. Escaping from slavery became even more dangerous than before.


Abolitionists nicknamed this the “Bloodhound Law” because of the dogs used to track down slaves.

Civil War


IN THE 1800S, THE NATION WAS DIVIDED ABOUT SLAVERY. Many people in the northern United States wanted to end slavery. Many people in the southern United States wanted to keep slaves. In 1861, the American Civil War began between the North and South. It involved seven Southern slave states, eventually growing to eleven.  These states split off from the northern United States and formed the Confederate States of America, or the “Confederacy.” The states that did not secede were known as the “Union” or the “North.”

13th-15th Amendments


13th Amendment – The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime.


14th Amendment – The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution addressed citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws. It was proposed in response to issues related to former slaves following the Civil War.


15th Amendment – The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Underground Railroad


The Underground Railroad was started in the 1800s. However, it was not actually a railroad underground! It was a set of secret trails and safe houses where slaves could hide on their way to freedom in Canada. Both White and Black abolitionists created the Underground Railroad. Abolitionists were people who wanted to end slavery.

Balbec Cabin


Owned by the Sullivan family in Jay County, Indiana. Their home became a stop for escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad. Legend says that one of those slaves was Eliza Harris, the hero in the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin.





HIDING PLACES for slaves offered short-term shelter before they continued their way to the North. They would hide under floorboards,and in secret rooms and barns as they waited to go to the next town.

The Quakers 


THE QUAKERS, also known as the Society of Friends, were a religious group that opposed slavery. They were among the first Whites to criticize slavery. Some helped blacks escape slavery through the Underground Railroad.

Quakers eventually had to move out west to avoid persecution by slave owners.


LEVI AND CATHERINE COFFIN were Quaker abolitionists who lived in Wayne County, Indiana. Their home was called the “Grand Central Station” of Indiana because they helped so many slaves escape on the Underground Railroad. The Coffins played a large role in the abolition movement against slavery.





Emancipation Proclamation


During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which told the slaves that they were free. In 1865, the North won the war and slavery was ended.The Emancipation Proclamation is a symbol of equality and social justice.


Origination of the KKK


Founded in 1866, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) extended into almost every southern state. The KKK became a driving force for white southern opposition and power. They resisted the Republican Party’s Reconstruction laws aimed at establishing political and economic equality for blacks. The Klan’s main goal was the rebirth of white supremacy, which they achieved through Democratic victories in state legislatures across the South.


White Protestant groups brought the KKK back to power in the 1910’s and 20’s with burning crosses, rallies, and marches in opposition of Catholics, Jews, blacks, and immigrants coming to America. The KKK also reappeared in the 1950’s and 60’s in opposition to the civil rights movement, with violent acts toward black and white activists.



Black Codes


Slavery was illegal in Indiana. But in the 1800s, many Indiana residents did not want free Black people to have the same rights as Whites. So they created Black Codes. These laws discouraged Black people from moving to Indiana. The laws also banned them from voting, serving on juries, joining the military, and going to public schools.




Jim Crow Laws


Jim Crow was a character in a song and a play that was used to ridicule Black people. The Jim Crow laws were racial segregation laws that existed from 1876 to 1965. These laws created conditions for Blacks that were worse than those for Whites.  The laws put Blacks at economic, educational, social and political disadvantages. School segregation was finally declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. The remaining Jim Crow laws were overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


Examples of Jim Crow laws include:


segregation of public schools, public places, public transportation, 

restrooms, restaurants, drinking fountains; even the U.S. military was segregated for a time.





bottom of page