Timeline

1777

July 2nd, 1777

Vermont Abolishes Slavery

After declaring independence from New York in January 1777, the citizens of Vermont developed their own constitution, which contained “A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the State of Vermont.” This declaration affirmed that all men were born free and that no male over age 21 or female over age 18 could serve another in the role of servant, slave, or apprentice whether “born in the country, or brought from over sea.” Thus, with the ratification of its constitution on July 2, 1777, Vermont became the first North American territory to abolish slavery.

Earlier, in 1774, the Rhode Island and Connecticut legislatures outlawed international slave importation but fell short of banning inter-colony slave trade. Despite their bans, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Vermont enacted laws interfering with free blacks’ efforts to find work, own property, or even remain in the state.

By 1804, all Northern states had voted to abolish the institution of slavery within their borders, but not always immediately. In some states, gradual emancipation laws set deadlines by which all slaves would be freed, releasing individuals as they reached a certain age or completed a certain term of labor. Gradual emancipation left many black people in bonded servitude. Though Pennsylvania passed its Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in 1780, the federal census as late as 1850 documented the presence of hundreds of young black slaves awaiting emancipation upon their 28th birthday.

1917

July 2nd, 1917

Two Hundred African Americans Killed in East St. Louis Riots

In 1916 and 1917, thousands of African Americans moved from the rural South to East St. Louis, Illinois, in search of industrial work. White residents and political leaders of East St. Louis attempted to dissuade African Americans from moving to the area and prohibited railroads from transporting them to the region. When these attempts failed, white residents used violence to intimidate, expel, and destroy the African American population.

The primary outbreak of violence began on July 2, 1917, and lasted until July 5. White mobs comprised of East St. Louis residents and outsiders who came to participate in the attacks ambushed African American workers as they left factories during a shift change. The National Guard was called in to suppress the violence but they were ordered not to shoot at white rioters. Some National Guard troops participated in the violence.

Estimates indicate that two hundred African American men, women, and children were shot, hanged, beaten to death, or burned alive after being driven into burning buildings during this surge of violence. The riots caused more than $400,000 in property damage and prompted 6000 African American residents (more than half of East St. Louis’s African American population) to flee the city. While 105 people were indicted on charges related to the riot, only twenty members of the white mob received prison sentences for their roles in perpetrating the extreme violence and killings.